No serious side effects were registered among dozens of children under the age of 16 who suffer specific COVID-19 risk factors and whom Israel has vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The children approved by medical authorities for vaccination had known risk factors including obesity, diabetes, severe lung and heart disease, immunosuppression disorders and cancer, the Ynet news site reported Thursday.
A child of a parent with a severe immunosuppression disorder was also vaccinated.
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.
Each individual case received approval from the child’s doctor and health care organization before it got the final greenlight from the vaccine committee at the Health Ministry.
The Leumit health fund has vaccinated 11 children, Clalit 31 and Meuhedet 55. The Maccabi health fund did not provide data to Ynet but the outlet said it had vaccinated dozens of children.
Israel’s decision came despite the global recommendation against inoculating anyone under the age of 16 due to the lack of clinical trials on that population.
Infection among children and school reopenings are 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.
The issue of vaccine hesitancy and skepticism is also a growing concern as Israel’s world-leading inoculation campaign has slowed in recent weeks. A recent poll showed the issue could become more acute with the question of vaccinating children.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has emergency approval for use in people 16 and older, but a clinical trial for children 12 to 15 has started. 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.
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 young as 6.
Before more infectious UK and South African strains of the virus emerged, medical officials had estimated that around 60-70 percent of the population must become immune — either by recovering from the disease or by getting vaccinated — to achieve herd immunity, when the level of immunity will cause the outbreak to abate and eventually end.
But the director of Sheba Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit, Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, said earlier this month that with each virus patient infecting more people as the mutated variants take over, a higher percentage of the population — 80-90% — must become immune to achieve herd immunity, meaning it can’t be reached without vaccinating kids and teenagers.