School Covid-19 cases spur Israeli parents to vaccinate kids

Experts say there will be no herd immunity if the younger generation is not vaccinated. PHOTO: REUTERS

TEL AVIV (REUTERS) - A weak link in Israel's world-beating Covid-19 vaccination roll-out until now, adolescents have found themselves on the frontline 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 per cent to 4 per cent of children from the ages of 12 to 15 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 in June, Israel has dropped nearly all social distancing and will open its borders to vaccinated tourists next month.

Many parents saw no rush in vaccinating their adolescent children.

But daily cases more than doubled to 125 on Monday after outbreaks at two schools, attributed to the more infectious Delta variant.

"Now, after the Covid-19 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.

Israel's two largest healthcare providers say appointments for 12-15-year-old vaccinations have doubled and tripled in the last few days.

The Health Ministry on Monday recommended that 12-15-year-olds get vaccinated and is now investing in outreach to get parents to bring their children in for shots.

Other parents still see no 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. "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.

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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.

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