Positive test rate drops below 1% for first time since June

Health officials say Israel could start vaccinating kids 5-11 by mid-November

Virus czar: Israeli kids to start getting inoculated after US counterparts, parents must ‘protect their children’; Health chief Ash: Government go-ahead may come ‘in several weeks’

Health worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, September 30, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Health worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, September 30, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Ministry officials said Sunday that Israel could greenlight coronavirus vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 starting mid-November, following the expected approval of the shots by US regulators.

Speaking to 103FM radio, coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said young Israeli children were likely to receive the vaccine a few weeks after their US counterparts.

“I estimate the second half of November is a reasonable deadline after our experts have discussed it,” Zarka, who is spearheading the national efforts to combat the pandemic, said in the interview.

“Even in the past when vaccines were approved by the FDA, our international experts discussed [the matter] before approval from the [Health Ministry] director-general,” he said.

“We will do the same this time — explain it to the parents and encourage them to get the vaccine and protect their children,” Zarka said.

On Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration said that kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine appear to be highly effective at preventing symptomatic infections in elementary school children and caused no unexpected safety issues.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka attends a press conference about the coronavirus in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash also told the Kan public broadcaster on Sunday that Israeli officials will examine the research before granting permission for the shot to be given to children below the age of 12.

“We will discuss the results of Pfizer’s research and then consider whether to approve the vaccine for children. It will take a few weeks,” he said.

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash at press conference about the coronavirus, in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The FDA posted its analysis of Pfizer’s data ahead of a public meeting on Tuesday, where a panel of outside experts will debate and vote on whether the shots are ready to be administered to the 5-11 age group.

If the FDA authorizes the shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make additional recommendations on who should receive them the first week of November. US children could therefore begin vaccinations early next month.

Israel’s policy has been to closely follow FDA guidelines on COVID-19 vaccine usage, though it has also broken with US regulators in offering booster shots to the general population.

In Israel, full-strength Pfizer shots already are recommended for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and many parents are anxiously awaiting protection for younger children to stem infections from the extra-contagious Delta variant and to help keep kids out of quarantine and in school.

This October 2021 photo provided by Pfizer shows kid-size doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in Puurs, Belgium (Pfizer via AP)

Pfizer on Friday posted results showing the two-dose vaccine was nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infection in young children. Researchers calculated the figure based on 16 COVID-19 cases in youngsters given dummy shots versus three cases among vaccinated children. There were no severe illnesses reported among any of the youngsters, but the vaccinated ones had much milder symptoms than their unvaccinated counterparts.

Most of the study data was collected in the US during August and September when the Delta variant had become the dominant COVID-19 strain.

Israel appears to be at the tail end of its fourth coronavirus wave, as new infections and serious cases have ticked down over the past few weeks.

Speaking at the Knesset Health Committee Sunday morning,  Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s chief of public health services, said that Israel was on the way out of the fourth wave.

“Right now the expectation is that the downward [morbidity] trend will continue, and we will see fewer verified cases by the day,” Alroy-Preis told lawmakers. “We are preparing to present the government with an exit plan.”

Head of public health services in the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, during an undated government meeting. (Knesset Spokesperson)

The Health Ministry said on Sunday that just 324 new coronavirus cases were confirmed the previous day, with a testing rate of 0.98%, the first time the number has dipped below 1 since June. Testing rates tend to be lower on weekends.

There were 13,050 active cases, including 433 patients hospitalized. Of them, 307 were in serious condition, with 157 of them on respirators.

Israel’s total COVID death toll since the start of the pandemic stood Sunday morning at 8,046.

The ministry also said that, as of Sunday morning, 6,217,352 Israelis have received at least one vaccine dose, 6,217,352 have gotten two shots and 3,896,785 have been administered a booster.

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