Israel kicks off COVID-19 vaccine campaign for 600,000 children aged 12-15

Thousands said to have booked appointments even as pandemic fades in country; Health Ministry will start with those most at risk

Israelis sit near a vaccination center  at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, December 31, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis sit near a vaccination center at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, December 31, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Some 600,000 Israelis aged 12-15 are eligible to receive a vaccine against the coronavirus from Sunday.

Thousands have already booked appointments through the country’s health maintenance organizations (HMOs), according to Saturday reports.

The move comes six months after Israel began its vaccination drive for adults, and after the US Food and Drug Administration okayed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the age group.

Some HMOs have already vaccinated children under 16 in at-risk groups and have seen no significant side effects from the shot.

According to the plan, children in that age group who are at greater risk of suffering severe symptoms from coronavirus infection will be the first advised to get the shots, along with those living with family members who are likewise at risk of serious illness.

Israeli students return to school in Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Families that are expecting to travel abroad will also be included in the first round of vaccinations, the ministry said.

The ministry stressed to The Times of Israel that vaccination will not be compulsory for adolescents, only advised, and parents will be able to decide if they want their children to get the shots.

On Tuesday it was reported that a member of the Health Ministry panel that has been advising on COVID-19 vaccinations received death threats during the process of approval for the inoculation of children.

Prof. Galia Rahav of Sheba Medical Center received threatening messages from anti-vaxxers online, including images of tombstones with her name and a “pulsa dinura,” a Jewish death curse that literally translates as “lashes of fire,” Kan news reported.

The hospital said it was coordinating with police over the threats and will provide Rahav with security at all times.

Israelis receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a Maccabi Health vaccination center at the Givatayim mall, outside of Tel Aviv, February 4, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel’s mass vaccination drive, which has already given both shots to over half the population, along with lockdown measures, brought down the number of new daily cases (based on a weekly average), from 8,600 at the peak of the health crisis to just 19 on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the last of a series of restrictions in place for over a year lapsed as case numbers continued to fall. The only major restrictions remaining are the mandate requiring masks to be worn indoors, expected to be lifted soon as well, and quarantine requirements for those entering the country.

At the height of the pandemic, there were 88,000 active cases in the country and 1,228 serious cases; as of Friday, there were 199 active infections and 39 people in serious condition.

Since the beginning of the outbreak early last year, 839,539 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel and there have been 6,417 deaths from the disease.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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