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Hundreds of children between the ages of 12 and 16 who have been given the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccination in Israel experienced no serious side-effects, a senior official has told the Guardian, one of the first signs that Covid-19 inoculations could be safe for minors ahead of clinical trial results.
Israel’s health ministry has recommended vaccinating some teenagers if they suffer from underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to contracting coronavirus.
“We have so far immunised somewhere around 600 children,” Boaz Lev, the head of the vaccine taskforce, said on Wednesday. “We didn’t see any major side-effects; even minor are quite rare. This is encouraging.”
The children, some of whom have cystic fibrosis, which affects the lungs, were not part of a clinical trial.
Pfizer is conducting a study of 12- to 15-year-olds and expects to begin another for five- to 11-year-olds. The University of Oxford has also announced a trial to test its AstraZeneca-produced Covid-19 vaccine on children young as six. Those studies are expected to take several months.
Speeding ahead with its vaccination campaign, Israel is approaching a significant moment in the pandemic that other governments will probably take months to get to – the decision on whether it should start to inoculate children en masse.
More than half of Israelis have been given at least one coronavirus shot, and officials expect about 60% of the population will have been fully inoculated within weeks.
That is the rough estimate epidemiologists have offered for when a country might start to experience herd immunity, the point at which societal resistance to the disease will see it fade away by itself, unable to jump easily from body to body.
However, as the pandemic has progressed, and with more transmissible variants of the virus emerging, scientists have been forced to rethink. Anthony Fauci, the most prominent US infectious disease expert, has said he believes it may take close to 90% immunity.
For Israel, a small country of 9 million, that presents an undeniable problem. A quarter of people are under 16, the recommended minimum age for the Pfizer jab that Israel is administering. The country’s coronavirus “tsar”, Nachman Ash, has said the ineligibility of under-16s is “troubling, in terms of the ability to achieve herd immunity”.
The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said Israel will complete its adult inoculation campaign by early April.
“Then, vaccines for children will start arriving,” Netanyahu told a local newspaper, Israel Hayom. “I assume that [regulators] will approve them in April and May and we will get them immediately afterward,” he added.
Oliver Geffen, an Israeli epidemiologist who has worked for Imperial College London and Public Health England, said the notion of herd immunity in the face of new virus variants was “a bit of a moving goalpost”. What really mattered, he said, was to reduce the number of severe cases.
“Vaccinating children can lead us to a herd immunity, but if the policy goal is the ongoing suppression of severe disease than other non-pharmaceutical interventions will be needed for some time,” he added, citing high testing levels and restricting mass gatherings.
Several scientists have called for a rethink along those lines, arguing the vaccinations should be seen as a method of reducing hospitalisations and deaths rather than herd immunity, which some suggest may be an impossibility in the face of new variants.
Israel has recorded a marked decrease in severe cases, but its infection rates, while declining, have not plummeted. For now, the government intends to prioritise people over 50, who are far more likely to become seriously ill.
However, whether children will be vaccinated or not still leaves the question of if their parents or guardians will agree.
An Israeli television channel commissioned a poll last month that found less than half of parents, 41%, intended to vaccinate their children. The poll, conducted by the Rushinek research institute, found 29% of parents did not plan on vaccinating their six- to 15-year-olds, and 30% were unsure.
Children are considered at low risk of developing serious complications to the disease. However, health officials have warned the British variant has led to a concerning rise in infections of children and young people, and vaccinations could help.
Lev said if and when children became eligible to be vaccinated, the ministry would need to launch a campaign to spread accurate information on safety, as there could be reluctance.
He added: “At this point, it’s very difficult to see what will happen in that regard.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Israel says 600 children given Covid jab had no serious side-effects | Vaccines and immunisation