Israel’s COVID vaccination rate soars again as teens flock to shot centers

Health Ministry data shows over 30 percent of 10-19 age bracket at least partially protected, with overwhelming majority of shots now going to adolescents

An Israeli youth receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem on June 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An Israeli youth receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem on June 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The number of adolescent getting vaccinated against the coronavirus has risen sharply in recent days, raising hopes that a large portion of the country’s minors eligible for shots will be protected against COVID-19 in coming weeks.

As of Tuesday morning, nearly 32 percent of Israelis in the 10-19 age bracket had received at least one dose of the vaccine, up from around 23% a week earlier, Health Ministry data showed.

Authorities launched a renewed drive to vaccinate teens aged 12 to 15 last week, responding to mounting numbers of new cases, many of them attributed to the fast-spreading Delta variant of the virus.

Since then, the number of shots distributed daily has climbed to back over 10,000 for the first time since early April. That’s when Israel’s world-leading vaccination drive stalled after distributing the vaccine to nearly 5 million people, the majority of its eligible population.

On Monday, over 14,314 people received the first dose of the vaccine, up from 13,513 people who received the first dose a day earlier, according to Health Ministry data. Over 11,000 first doses were distributed by noon Tuesday.

The vast majority of those getting the shot in recent days fall into the 10-19 age category, according to official figures, which only go to Saturday. On June 24, 9,866 people in the age bracket received a first dose of the vaccine, representing over 83% of everyone getting the first shot that day. Similar percentages have been seen on other days as well.

Among those getting vaccinated on Tuesday was Michal Bennett, the 14-year-old daughter of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The premier tweeted a picture of his daughter and called on others to go get vaccinated.

“The Delta disease can harm those who are not vaccinated, and that is the children,” Bennett said Tuesday while touring a youth vaccination center in Holon.

He set a goal of 30,000 vaccines a day for the next 10 days.

According to reports, Israel has 1.4 million doses set to expire at the end of next month and Bennett is hoping to use as many of them as possible by getting 300,000 children vaccinated by July 9, leaving enough time for a second dose from the expiring batch as well.

Prime Minister Prime Minister Naftali Bennett right, and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, left, at a youth vaccination center in Holon on June 29 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash90)

Three of Israel’s four major health funds say that around 50 percent of their members aged 12 to 15 will be protected from the virus by next month, adding together those who have been vaccinated, those who have scheduled vaccinations, and those who have recovered from the disease, Channel 12 news reported Tuesday.

Israel okayed the vaccine for 12-to-15-year-olds in early June, but authorities only began encouraging vaccinations for the age group last week in response to rising case numbers.

Israel in recent days has seen daily caseload levels climb to levels not seen since April. Nearly 300 cases were confirmed on Monday and another 287 were reported by Tuesday evening.

The hospitalization rate has remained low, however, with only 22 people hospitalized in serious condition as of Tuesday, the ministry said. Many experts consider hospitalizations to be better  than total case numbers for measuring an area’s health.

Israelis attend a movie at Cinema City in Jerusalem for the official reopening after 14 months of closure during the coronavirus pandemic, on May 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“So long as there’s no serious morbidity, we can continue to live our lives as normally as possible,” Dr. Arnon Afek, head of Sheba-Tel Hashomer Medical Center near Tel Aviv told Army Radio Tuesday.

Nonetheless, some officials have reportedly expressed fears that the number of seriously ill will rise, with Israel unprepared to deal with the influx.

“The staff are tired, frustrated and still haven’t had a chance to recover. They simply won’t be able to handle it. It will be a catastrophe,” an unnamed health official was quoted telling the Ynet news website.

Ziv Hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, February 4, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Delta variant of the virus, first identified in India, is more contagious than other variants and may be better able to bypass vaccines, but apparently does not cause serious infection. The transmissibility of the Delta variant over the original strain is around 40%, according to the United Kingdom’s Public Health agency. The effectiveness of two vaccine doses for protection from hospitalization is at 96%, according to the agency.

With case numbers rising, Israel has thus far reimposed an indoor mask mandate and cracked down on travelers arriving from countries with high infection rates or breaking quarantine, but has sought to avoid a return to the restrictions it has largely emerged from over the last two months.

“We can beat the current coronavirus wave without restrictions,” Bennett said Tuesday. “Vaccinations instead of lockdowns, masks instead of restrictions.”

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