As we struggle to get adults vaccinated, Israel is rolling out an aggressive campaign to protect teenagers from COVID.
As many countries struggle to source vaccinations for their adult and vulnerable populations, 29% of the 12-15 age group in Israel has been vaccinated, along with 11% who have contracted Covid and recovered. This brings the immunity rate for this cohort to 40%, below the 50% the Health Ministry had hoped for, but still an impressive achievement in less than three months.
Since February, Israel has made the Pfizer vaccine available and free to all citizens over 16, including undocumented refugees, and is the most vaccinated country in the world. The US, Singapore, Japan, the UAE, Chile, Philippines and Israel are the only countries vaccinating under 16s.
On Monday, Israel will become the first country in the world to offer a third dose of Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine as a booster shot for people with weakened immune systems.
The surge of the Delta variant is not the only reason so many teens in Israel are willingly getting their shots. There has been a concerted campaign targeting teens, including a promotional video made by youth movements and a photo of Naftali Bennett’s 14-year-old daughter being vaccinated that were both shared from the Prime Minister’s official Facebook account this week.
To assuage concerns about potential side effects, the newly elected PM also shared a quote from Professor Shimon Reif, director of the children’s department at Hadassah Ein Kerem, who said: “I have 14 grandchildren and I wanted to vaccinate everyone over the age of 12. The vaccine has almost no side effects. On the other hand, children are seen coming to the ward with serious side effects as a result of being infected with the virus.”
Rivka Aminoff grew up in Sydney and made aliyah 15 years ago. A mother of six, she had no hesitation in vaccinating her 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son as soon as vaccines were made available to this age group in Israel.
Aminoff told Plus61JMedia that she trusted her family doctor who advised the Pfizer vaccine, and said neither of her kids objected, while noting that they are not of the age where they should be making medical decisions for themselves. Had they objected, she would have invited them to speak with the doctor.
As Israel’s case numbers among youth have more than doubled since June, Aminoff felt that any risks from the vaccine would be minor compared to the long-term health risks her son could face by contracting Covid. Since he was vaccinated, he has twice been exposed to people who have tested positive, leading to two rounds of 14-day home isolation, which further vindicated her decision.
She also wanted to travel to the UK, where her husband was born, and Australia, hoping that having a vaccinated family would make this easier and safer in future.
Moriah College graduate Sarah Vanunu moved to Israel in 2005. Now living in Tel Aviv with her husband and three children, she had no hesitation in vaccinating her son Solly. Aged 12, he has been exposed to someone with corona six times since the start of the pandemic, with each leading to a 14-day quarantine period for Solly and his family.
A huge motivation for Solly to take the Pfizer shot emerged after the Health Ministry ruled that vaccinated people would be exempt from quarantine. Another factor was a summer program he wants to attend that requires negative tests from all campers as part of the registration process.
Vanunu told Plus61J she wasn’t concerned by any of the anti-vax rhetoric she’s heard from Australia. “I’m far more worried about him getting hit by an electric scooter than any side effect from the vaccine.”
She also wanted to be a responsible citizen. Given her son had no pre-existing conditions, she was less worried about him getting Covid after hearing of many kids who have had it with zero symptoms, However, she was concerned about the possibility that he would pass it to someone who was immunocompromised.
Muki Jankelowitz is a tour educator from Modi’in. Unlike the others who spoke to Plus61J, his 14-year-old son Niv was keener than his father to have the vaccination. His son wanted to attend both a summer camp with the Noam youth movement that required vaccination or PCR Covid detection test from all campers, and a family holiday planned for Cyprus in August.
With the rest of his family vaccinated, Muki’s son felt vaccination would avoid any difficulties leaving and returning, or requiring isolation, should the restrictions change in the coming weeks.
With a sister-in-law in New York, parents in Johannesburg, and a brother in Sydney who are yet to get the shot or are only partially vaccinated, Jankelowitz felt some unease about the “privilege” of being able to vaccinate a child who faces little health risk from Covid when so many people who need it more have no access to vaccines.
He was convinced to go ahead after Israeli officials said the country’s current batch of Pfizer vaccines would expire this month and go to waste if it wasn’t used by citizens of Israel.
While Israel currently has triple the daily new cases of Australia, despite having less than half the population, it is unlikely to have more lockdowns, although some restrictions – like masks indoors, testing or green passports before entering large venues – will remain. For many Israelis, knowing this is a breath of fresh air.
This piece was originally published by Plus61J, and is reprinted with their permission.