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Key meeting of panel deciding on vaccines for kids 5-11 will be closed to public

Health officials livestreamed previous hearing to boost transparency, alleviate parents’ fears; Israel expected to follow FDA lead and approve vaccinating age group

A mother poses with her son in front of a picture of Dr. Anthony Fauci, after the boy received a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in San Jose, California, November 3, 2021. (Noah Berger/AP)
A mother poses with her son in front of a picture of Dr. Anthony Fauci, after the boy received a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in San Jose, California, November 3, 2021. (Noah Berger/AP)

The Health Ministry announced Monday that a meeting Wednesday of an advisory panel that will decide on approving coronavirus vaccines for children aged 5-11 will be held behind closed doors.

According to Kan news, most health experts on the panel decided against letting the public view the proceedings. The experts are expected to make a decision this week whether to green-light the coronavirus immunizations for children.

“All the considerations for and against the decision were deliberated, including the ability to have a free and open dialogue on such a sensitive and crucial matter amid the backdrop of widespread violent discourse, which could impact the course of the meeting,” the ministry said.

The ministry broadcast deliberations about okaying the vaccine for kids last week, aiming to push back at accusations of opaque decision-making. The Health Ministry allowed the public to listen in for five hours to boost transparency efforts, with some pre-approved members of the public allowed to weigh in with questions in real-time.

The discussion came days after the US Food and Drug Administration granted the vaccine authorization for the age group, paving the way for the US to begin immunizing younger kids.

The Health Ministry is widely expected to follow the FDA’s lead and approve the vaccine for children ages 5-11.

Ahead of last Thursday’s hearing, some health officials had expressed qualms over the open nature of the meeting, fearing they would feel restricted in what they could say, but the ministry pushed ahead with the step as a means of combating misinformation surrounding the vaccine.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, attends a press conference about the coronavirus, in Jerusalem, on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the ministry’s head of public health, said during the last hearing that the most recent wave of the pandemic affected young people who were not vaccinated at a higher proportion than previous rounds. She said that 136 children suffered from pediatric inflammatory multi-system syndrome (PIMS).

Also, according to the data presented by Alroy-Preis, inoculated children between the ages of 12 and 15 are a dozen times more protected against contracting the virus and 20 times more protected against symptomatic infection than those at their ages who have not been vaccinated.

Alroy-Preis told viewers that the Health Ministry would not be forcing anyone to vaccinate their children.

“What is important is that every parent will make the decision for their child, relying on the statistics that we provide,” said Alroy-Preis. “As we have said all along, there is no attempt to force or to compel — rather to provide all of the data so that every parent can make the right decision for their child.”

Discussing Pfizer’s vaccine trial, a representative for the company addressing the hearing said it was considering spacing out the two doses for a longer period than the current three weeks between the first and second shots.

The Pfizer representative also told the health officials that the firm’s data found no cases of the heart condition myocarditis among children aged 5-11 who received the vaccine in their trial.

RN Rosemary Lantigua inoculates Ryann Onofrio Franceschini, 11, with the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11 years at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, on November 3, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Health Ministry officials have said that Israel could start distributing vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 starting mid-November, which is when a shipment of Pfizer’s kid-sized doses (a third of the regular dose) is reportedly expected to arrive.

In Israel, full-strength Pfizer shots are already 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.

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. Nearly 500 new cases were recorded Monday, down from thousands of new daily cases just a few months ago.

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