Inside Israel

COVID vaccine for Israeli babies, toddlers expected by April, says health official

Israel is expected to roll out vaccines for babies and toddlers by April, says a senior health official.

“In Israel vaccines are available now for everybody aged five and over. I believe by April this will be expanded for any age above six months,” Dr. Asher Shalmon, the Health Ministry’s director of international relations, said in a briefing to foreign policymakers and journalists this week.

Pfizer is in the process of conducting clinical trials to lower the approved age for its vaccine from five years to six months. Pfizer reported last month that, in its ongoing trial of children aged six months to five years, “no safety concerns were identified” and the vaccine “demonstrated a favorable safety profile.”

The company is currently checking responses to a regimen of three mini doses for under-5s, after finding that a two-dose approach provoked a strong response among children aged 6-24 months, but wasn’t as strong in children ages two to five years.

Government coronavirus adviser Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, a top epidemiologist, also noted in a press briefing on Wednesday that Israel was aiming to introduce infant doses soon.

Davidovitch made his comments as he discussed why he believes parents shouldn’t let their guard down against Omicron based on observations that it tends to cause milder illness than previous variants, and that children tend to experience the virus more mildly than adults.

An Israeli child receives his second shot of the Covid-19 vaccine at Clalit vaccine center for childrens in Kfar Saba, December 13, 2021. (Flash90)

“Children are often much less sick than adults, but they can have PIMS [pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome, an aftereffect of COVID-19] and long COVID, which is why vaccines are important, and there will be vaccines for children under fives.”

Doctors are optimistic about the capability of vaccines to prevent PIMS, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States found that the Pfizer vaccine is highly protective against the syndrome. It concluded that the vaccine is 91% effective in preventing PIMS among 12- to 18-year-olds, a statistic based on comparison of its occurrence among unvaccinated teens.

Davidovitch said Omicron is far more infectious among children, especially compared to the original form of the virus, which was significantly less infectious among kids compared to adults. “It’s clear now that unlike with the original SARS-COV-2 that was not so relevant to children and they weren’t so infectious, now things are very different,” he said. “It’s probably related to biological characteristics — infection is now much more in your throat and in the upper respiratory areas. With children, whose anatomy is different from adults’, this seems to make them more prone to infection now.”

Nadav Davidovitch (courtesy Ben Gurion University)

Davidovitch, a leader of Israel’s doctors union and director of Ben-Gurion University’s School of Public Health, said he expected that in the future, once the pandemic was tamed and the virus was reduced to a low level — or in scientific jargon became endemic — coronavirus vaccines would be administered during childhood as a matter of course, pending parents’ approval.

“My prediction is when the disease is endemic we’re going to have COVID vaccines as part of a regular vaccine schedule like MMR, so people who are born will get the vaccination schedule along with other vaccines,” he said.

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