JERUSALEM – Israel’s pandemic advisory board on Wednesday backed administering Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to children age 5-11, health officials said, as a fourth wave of infections subsides nationwide.
The Health Ministry is widely expected to accept the panel’s recommendation and begin rolling out the shots this month.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization of the vaccine for the age group at a 10-microgram dose.
The original shot given to those aged 12 and older is 30 micrograms. Pfizer and BioNTech have said their vaccine showed 90.7% efficacy against the coronavirus in a clinical trial of children aged 5 to 11.
Israel’s 9.4 million population is relatively young, with around 1.2 million children age 5-11, and health officials have been doubtful the country could reach “herd immunity” without children being vaccinated.
Four million Israelis have taken booster shots, which in August were approved for anyone who had their second Pfizer jab at least five months earlier.
Adopting a “Living with COVID strategy,” the government kept schools and the economy largely open during a fourth wave of infections, while hoping to beat back the pandemic with booster shots, mandated mask-wearing and a “Green Pass” system of digital certification.
The panel’s vote was held behind closed doors with the Health Ministry citing concerns that decision makers would otherwise not speak freely due to aggressive anti-vax rhetoric by members of the public.
A discussion last week was broadcast live. There have been an increasing number of threats against officials at the Health Ministry, police say, and at least one senior health official has been assigned a personal security detail.
“The main goal is protecting the health of children as individuals, but at the end of the day the decision (to vaccinate) is autonomous and subject to the private consideration of each and every family and it should be free of coercion, “ Boaz Lev, head of the Health Ministry’s pandemic taskforce, said at a news conference where he announced the vote.