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Virus czar says kids’ tests may stop being free, as inoculation set to begin

Salman Zarka explains he wants children aged 5-11 to get vaccinated for a Green Pass, instead of relying on the tests; top health official says shots to be given at schools

Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka attends a press conference about the coronavirus in Jerusalem, on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka attends a press conference about the coronavirus in Jerusalem, on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

National coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said on Wednesday that the Health Ministry will discuss the possibility of ending free virus tests for children who are not inoculated against COVID-19, as a vaccine drive for those aged 5 to 11 is expected to begin next month.

The move is apparently aimed at encouraging that age group to get vaccinated instead of relying on the free tests for access to various venues.

The document, held by those who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, grants access to many public places and events, including restaurants and museums.

But a temporary Green Pass can also be obtained through a negative virus test, which must be paid for — unless the individual is not eligible for vaccination.

“We really want the children to be vaccinated and get a permanent Green Pass. Will we still allow them to test for free? This is a topic we will discuss at a later date,” Zarka told Channel 12.

Israeli kids show their green pass as they queue at the entrance of the Science Museum in Jerusalem, on August 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Ministry officials have said that Israel could greenlight kid-size coronavirus vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 starting mid-November, following the approval of the shots by US regulators. On Tuesday, a US Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously with one abstention that the vaccine’s benefits in preventing COVID-19 in that age group outweigh any potential risks.

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash told Kan news on Wednesday that he will insist on conducting vaccinations within school premises.

Ash said that in recent months authorities have been vaccinating children over 12 at schools “and it has been successful and it’s important to continue,” adding that it will still be possible to be vaccinated at an HMO or other local vaccination stations.

“The principle is that when there are vaccines available, you have to get vaccinated. This is the solution to the pandemic,” Ash said.

Illustrative: A young girl receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit Health Services facility in Jerusalem, August 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

The shots for children under 12 are expected to be one-third the dose for adults.

The belief that children suffer milder symptoms from COVID-19 infection has seen some Israelis deliberately try to infect their children in order to avoid the need for vaccination. However, health officials have warned against the dangers posed by so-called “long COVID” symptoms in which some recovered patients — even children — continue to suffer related ailments long after having recovered from the disease.

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.

The Health Ministry said on Wednesday that just 727 new coronavirus cases were confirmed the previous day, with a positive testing rate of 0.85%, the lowest recorded number since July 3.

There were 10,275 active cases, including 332 patients hospitalized. Of them, 234 were in serious condition, with 139 of them on respirators.

Israel’s total COVID death toll since the start of the pandemic reached 8,073.

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