Health official hails 'celebration day for kids and parents'

Israel begins vaccinating children aged 5-11

Though campaign doesn’t officially kick off until Tuesday, health providers are already rolling out COVID shots for kids

Israeli boy Itamar, 5, receives a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Meuhedet Healthcare Services Organization in Tel Aviv, on November 22, 2021, as Israel begins its coronavirus vaccination campaign for 5 to 11-year-olds. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Israel began vaccinating children aged 5-11 Monday afternoon, with the country’s coronavirus czar saying it was a “celebration day for children and parents who can now protect their kids.”

Though the official launch of the vaccine campaign is on Tuesday, health providers started rolling out the shots for children at a number of locations across the country, days after the first shipment of kid-sized Pfizer-BioNTech doses arrived in Israel.

Health officials said several hundred children were vaccinated Monday and that appointments for vaccinations starting on Tuesday had been booked for 24,000 children — some 2.5% of those eligible in the age group.

Speaking to reporters Monday evening, coronavirus czar Salman Zarka, the person responsible for coordinating the country’s preparedness and response to the virus, said parents should celebrate because the vaccine will not only provide protection to children, but also allow normal life to return.

“The disease is mild [in children], but there are cases where the disease can continue with long-term symptoms such as insomnia and muscle aches,” Zarka warned.

“Along with protecting children, the vaccine provides a solution to a normal and uninsulated life,” he said. “It will help parents get back to normal.”

Zarka said that Israeli parents should not be worried about inoculating their young kids because “more than 3 million children have been vaccinated in the US and we are seeing effective results.”

Yoav, 9, smiles after receiving a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Meuhedet Healthcare Services Organization in Tel Aviv on November 22, 2021, as Israel begins coronavirus vaccination campaign for 5 to 11-year-olds. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

He said that the Health Ministry and health service providers would make it “as easy as possible” for parents to vaccinate their children, including setting up mobile vaccination stations around the country over the Hanukkah festival, which begins early next month.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel was facing a possible virus outbreak among the younger population.

“We are on the verge of what appears to be a wave of illness affecting children,” Bennett said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

Bennett has pledged “total transparency” on the matter of inoculating children.

“I know there is a certain sensitivity around this matter. There are a lot of people who are afraid to vaccinate children, and they are not necessarily ‘anti-vaxxers’ or those who buy into conspiracy theories,” Bennett wrote in a lengthy Facebook post last week.

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old sits ready for use at a vaccination site in Fort Worth, Texas, on November 11, 2021. (LM Otero/AP)

Speaking Sunday morning to the Kan public broadcaster, Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public services at the Health Ministry, estimated that “around half” of parents would currently not want their children to be vaccinated.

“It makes sense that part of the population is undecided and wants more data,” she said.

She warned that the virus can still affect young children even if it is less dangerous to them than it is to the older population.

“It is true that it is more harmful to adults, but it can cause serious illness in children as well. Both during the illness itself and in the side effects afterward,” she said.

Israeli approval of the shot for children came days after the United States Food and Drug Administration granted the vaccine authorization for the 5-11 age group.

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