The Health Ministry said Wednesday that it would begin vaccinating children aged 12-15 against the coronavirus from next week.
According to the plan, children in that age group who are at risk of suffering severe symptoms from coronavirus infection will be the first advised to get the shots, along with those living with family members who are likewise at risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Families who are expecting to travel abroad will also be included in the first round of vaccinations, the ministry said.
Aside from those groups, anyone else who wants to vaccinate their adolescent children will be able to do so.
The ministry stressed to The Times of Israel that vaccination will not be compulsory for adolescents, only advised, and parents will be able to decide if they want their children to get the shots.
Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy was already holding talks with the country’s health management organizations in preparation for them to vaccinate adolescents, the ministry said.
Though the ministry did not specify a date, earlier this week Channel 12 News reported that the vaccine drive will begin on Sunday.
The decision to move ahead with vaccinating adolescents came following a meeting Tuesday night attended by health officials including Levy and coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, as well as representatives from the Israel Pediatric Association
The meeting deliberated possible complications from expanding the vaccine program, including heart problems, in the wake of a ministry report of a probable link between the second dose shot of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine and dozens of cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, in males under 30.
Despite evidence of the link, officials decided that the benefit of the vaccine far outweighed the danger posed to adolescents.
Even in the cases of heart issues detected among those aged 16-19 who have already had the vaccine, “it was minimal and most cases passed without complications,” the ministry said.
A ministry report Tuesday found that from December 2020 until May 2021, there were 275 cases of myocarditis reported across the country, 148 of them in close proximity to when the patient received a vaccine dose.
Twenty-seven cases, including 11 people with preexisting conditions, were reported shortly after the first dose, out of 5,401,150 people who received a shot. However, that increased to 121 cases, including 60 people with preexisting conditions, out of 5,049,424 within 30 days of the second shot.
The ministry said the vast majority of those affected were men under 30, particularly between the ages of 16 and 19. Most cases were mild, with patients released from the hospital after four days, the report found, as is usual with myocarditis.
One death was linked to myocarditis, but not conclusively proven, the report said.
The report found that the link between the vaccine and myocarditis dwindled as age increased. Some health experts have suggested giving younger people only one shot to avoid the second dose side effects.
Also Tuesday, it was reported that a member of the Health Ministry panel that has been advising on COVID-19 vaccinations received death threats during the process of approval for the inoculation of children.
Prof. Galia Rahav of Sheba Medical Center received threatening messages from anti-vaxxers online, including images of tombstones with her name and a “pulsa dinura,” a Jewish death curse that literally translates as “lashes of fire,” the Kan public broadcaster reported.
The hospital said it was coordinating with police over the threats and will provide Rahav with security at all times.
Israel’s mass vaccination drive, which has already given both shots to over half the population, along with lockdown measures brought down infection rates from thousands a day at the beginning of the year to just a few dozen in recent weeks.
There were just 35 new cases detected Tuesday, according to Health Ministry figures released Wednesday.
Since the beginning of the outbreak early last year, 839,515 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel and there have been 6,413 deaths from the disease.