A weak link in Israel’s world-beating COVID-19 vaccination rollout until now, adolescents have found themselves on the front line of the campaign with fears of the Delta variant prompting reluctant parents to get their children vaccinated.
About three-quarters of Israelis in eligible age groups have received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. But that includes just 2-4% of 12-15-year-olds since they were made eligible this month, according to Health Ministry data.
With infections falling from more than 10,000 daily cases in January to single digits, Israel has dropped nearly all social distancing. It hopes to admit vaccinated tourists as of July.
But after daily cases more than doubled to 125 on Monday after outbreaks at two schools attributed to the more infectious Delta variant, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that border clampdowns could be extended as part of new precautions.
“Vaccinate your children,” he urged in televised remarks, warning that currently allotted doses would expire on July 9.
Israel’s two largest healthcare providers say appointments for 12-15-year-old vaccinations have doubled and tripled in the last few days.
“Now, after the COVID outbreaks, I said – today, today, I don’t give a damn, today,” said Yizhak Nevo, who took his 13-year-old daughter to get the jab in the town of Binyamina, where one school had a recent outbreak.
The Health Ministry on Monday recommended that 12-15-year-olds get vaccinated and is now investing in outreach to parents.
Not all parents see a rush. Eldad Askof, who got the vaccine himself, sat outside a school with his 13-year-old son Amit, both wearing masks.
“There was a debate, but at the moment we feel that we don’t want to vaccinate. If we can control it without vaccinating the kids we prefer that,” he said, speaking before Bennett’s speech.
“We feel that at the moment in Israel that the situation is not too alarming.”
But experts say there will be no herd immunity if the younger generation is not vaccinated.
Over a third of the population, mostly children and adolescents, are unvaccinated, said Ran Balicer, who heads a COVID-19 government advisory committee. “At this level, it is unlikely that one can reach full herd immunity.”
There were still not enough cases in Israel of the Delta variant, which is spreading in other countries, to conduct research into the effectiveness of Pfizer’s vaccine, he said.
Some studies abroad have shown it to be effective.
“There will undoubtedly be a rise in cases but I hope that there will not be a dramatic rise in hospitalisations because those being infected are young and most of the adults are vaccinated,” said Adi Stern, an evolutionary virology professor at Tel Aviv University.