Israel officially launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign on Tuesday for children aged 5-11, hoping to stem the spread of COVID-19 in schools and patch the largest remaining gap in its drive for national immunity from the pandemic.
Among the first to receive the shot Tuesday was David Bennett, 9, who was brought to a vaccination clinic by his father, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“Today we are starting the nationwide campaign to vaccinate children, first of all to safeguard our children. David was just vaccinated. This safeguards both children and parents, and the entire State of Israel,” the elder Bennett said. “It works, it’s safe and I call on all Israeli parents to come and have their children vaccinated.”
Israel recently emerged from a fourth COVID-19 wave and daily infections have been relatively low for the last few weeks. But Health Ministry statistics show that a large share of the new infections have been in children and teenagers and children age 5 to 11 make up nearly half of active cases.
“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 on Sunday.
Officials hope the new inoculation campaign will help bring down the numbers, choke off transmission chains and perhaps stave off any future waves.
Prompted by his father to explain why it was important to get vaccinated, David Bennett said that it was “so that children don’t get sick with the coronavirus and they don’t infect their parents.”
“It didn’t hurt, it was nothing. It just looked like it was going to hurt,” he said.
Though the official launch was only Tuesday, health providers started rolling out the shots for children at a number of locations across the country on Monday, as kiddie-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine began being shipped to clinics.
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.
Bennett called for all parents to take their children to get vaccinated, and urged other government politicians who have children or grandchildren of the relevant age to lead by example.
The country’s coronavirus czar said Monday was a “day of celebration for children, and for parents who can now protect their kids.”
Salman Zarka, who is spearheading the national response to the pandemic, said the vaccine will not only provide protection to children, but also allow a return to normal life.
“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.
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 next week.
Israel is one of the first countries to begin giving vaccines to kids in the age group, following the US, which began vaccinating children 5-11 on November 8.
“More than 3 million children have been vaccinated in the US and we are seeing effective results,” Zarka said, seeking to allay any concerns from Israeli parents.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.