Israel has so far vaccinated some 600 children between the ages of 12 and 16 in at-risk groups against the coronavirus with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and has seen no significant side effects from the shot, a top health official said in an interview Wednesday.
“We have so far immunized somewhere around 600 children,” Dr. Boaz Lev, a top member of the Health Ministry’s advisory team to the cabinet, told the Guardian. “We didn’t see any major side effects; even minor ones are quite rare. This is encouraging.”
Lev also said the ministry would need to launch a PR campaign on vaccine safety if immunization is approved for children. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday children will soon begin receiving vaccines, but didn’t specify a timeline.
“At this point, it’s very difficult to see what will happen in that regard,” Lev said.
Pfizer recently enrolled over 2,000 children between 12 and 15 for clinical trials and hopes to have results within a few months. It’s expected the drugmaker could seek emergency authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration for that age group in the first half of this year.
The vaccine currently has emergency approval for use in people 16 and older.
The Israeli children who have been approved by medical authorities for vaccination had known risk factors including obesity, diabetes, severe lung and heart disease, immunosuppression disorders and cancer, according to a report last month.
The Health Ministry has recommended vaccinating some teenagers age 12-15 against COVID-19 if they suffer from specific underlying conditions. The report did not say whether all the children vaccinated in Israel were over the age of 12.
Infection among children and school reopenings have been a central concern during Israel’s third-wave virus outbreak. Children represent a larger proportion of infections than earlier in the pandemic, possibly due to new virus variants and the fact that a significant percentage of adults have been vaccinated.
Moderna has also started trials for children 12 and up, but says it is unlikely to have data on younger children until 2022. The University of Oxford has announced a trial to test its AstraZeneca-produced COVID-19 vaccine on children as young as 6.
As of Wednesday, over 5 million Israelis have received one dose of coronavirus vaccine and more than 3.9 million have gotten both shots. Netanyahu predicted Monday that by the end of April the entire over-16 population will be vaccinated. Israel’s total population is around 9.3 million.