Vaccinating Israeli Children to Help Beat the Corona-virus?

Starting mid-November, after the FDA in the United States approves vaccines for children, Israel will begin vaccinating in this age group. A personal perspective.

Photo: Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

It was recently reported that the State of Israel could start vaccinating children ages 5-11 starting mid-November, after the FDA in the United States approves vaccines for children in this age group.   Last week, the FDA publicized that kids’ doses of the Pfizer vaccine were highly effective in preventing serious illness among elementary school age children and caused no unexpected safety issues.

According to various media reports, American Food and Drug Administration scientists concluded that in almost every scenario the vaccine’s benefit for preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19 would outweigh any serious potential side effects in children. So, the question remains, how will vaccinating children aged 5-11 affect the struggle against the coronavirus?

While it is true that children are less likely to die or be hospitalized due to the coronavirus, the claim that children are immune to the virus is a myth. A couple of weeks ago, a 16-year-old unvaccinated Israeli teen died from post-COVID syndrome, otherwise known as long COVID.    In the United States alone, more than six million children have gotten COVID-19 and 600 of them have perished from the illness, including 158 of them who were between the ages of 5 and 11.

Israeli children and COVID

Earlier this month Haaretz reported that the Shneider Children’s Medical Center in Petach Tikva were treating about 150 children for “long COVID” and several hundred more are on the waiting list: “Demand is high and the wait is more than half a year because we monitor and test everything for every patient.”  Around 11% of Israeli children who get COVID-19 suffer from “long-COVID.”    And since the Delta wave began, the percentage of children who have gotten COVID-19 or Long COVID has gone up.

Many children who get “long COVID” suffer shortness of breath, muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, disordered sleep, chest pain, hair loss, loss of taste and smell, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating, among other symptoms. Sixty percent of these children suffered reduced daily functioning because of these symptoms. While some children who get “long COVID” or “post COVID” experience it as a continuation of getting the severe illness, others had a lull of several months before requiring hospitalization. No parent would want their children to experience this. However, are Israeli parents willing to act so there will be less children getting COVID-19 and Long Covid?

How many Israeli parents are willing to vaccinate their children?

According to a recent Bar Ilan University poll, 57% of Israeli parents would vaccinate their children aged 5-11 if the FDA gives the approval to do so.   However, only 27% are willing to vaccinate their children during the first month it’s available, while 27% said they would do it within one to three months of the approval being given; 17% would wait four to twelve months and 7% would wait over a year. The pollsters say the reason that many Israeli parents wish to delay vaccination or not do it at all is due to safety concerns in 66% of cases, while 61% were worried about potential side effects and 57% feared that the clinical process was conducted too quickly “for political reasons.” 

Indeed, there have been reports in the American media that side effects for the vaccine include soar arms, achiness and fever. Furthermore, there have also been reports that the second dose of the vaccine could occasionally cause myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation.   However, the FDA did conclude that one is more likely to get hospitalized from COVID-19 than one is to get myocarditis from the second dose of the vaccine.

Dr. Richard Besser, a former director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, told “Face the Nation” that it is understandable that parents would have questions and concerns about any new vaccine, and he suggested that people approach these parents as follows: “In my experience, pressuring and berating people doesn’t work. The first step is to listen; it’s important that we give people the time and space to ask questions and have their concerns heard.”

“Parents should bring those questions or concerns to a health care provider or others they trust to get accurate information,” he added. “Vaccine misinformation is rampant and its continued spread ultimately disrespects and endangers those who may have legitimate questions for which they’re seeking honest answers.”

In my opinion when the State of Israel starts giving out doses to children aged 5 to 11, it should be accompanied by an educational campaign on the merits of giving out the vaccine to children as soon as possible. Otherwise, we will face a scenario where most Israeli parents will either wait to see how things materialize or will not give their children the vaccine at all. This will result in the corona situation remaining not much better than it presently is today, for the massive vaccination of children is critical for the struggle against the coronavirus, as many of the unvaccinated Israelis are children under age 18.

Many parents hesitate in giving their children the vaccine thinking the virus endangers children. They should consider what Dr. Besser stated: “Children who haven’t gotten COVID-19 directly have still been hit hard by this virus. More than 140,000 children in the US have lost a parent or caregiver, while long-term school closures and lockdowns have negatively affected children’s social, emotional, and mental health.”

It should be noted that a major reason for the vaccination of children is so that they not spread the virus among parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the wider population that remain unvaccinated and are at great risk of getting hospitalized or dying of COVID-19 by the mere fact that children are exposed to the pandemic at school.

Last February, a 32-year-old unvaccinated Israeli pregnant mom and her 30-week-old fetus died of COVID-19.  She left behind four children as orphans. Last March, two Israeli sisters, aged 23 and 31, died of coronavirus after giving birth. Neither of these sisters were vaccinated.

In August 2021, at least 22 pregnant women died of COVID in the US and almost all of them were not vaccinated.   The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that pregnant women are 70% more likely to die from COVID-19. This means that if a child gets corona at school and brings the virus home to his or her pregnant mother, it can be fatal. However, it is critical to note that an Israeli study found a 78% reduction in infection among pregnant women who received the vaccine. Thus, the vaccination of children and pregnant parents is of utmost importance.

A personal perspective – additional reasons this is so important

Aside from the health benefits, there are other reasons to vaccinate children. As an American Jewish parent who lives in the State of Israel, I noticed that the three lockdowns caused my children to feel depressed for an entire year and this adversely affected their behavior as well. And even today, every time my children want to go to a play or a museum or something else fun, they need a corona test, and this is not convenient.

Furthermore, I can tell you that my three children have not seen the American side of the family since before the coronavirus struck our world. Since they are of elementary school age or younger, this means that they really do not remember my side of the family at all, as my elderly parents, aunt and uncle were not able to travel to Israel in this corona environment and my children could not really travel to America without being vaccinated. However, the day all my children can be vaccinated, I can change this reality and they can see the American side of the family again.

As a parent, I will do anything to make sure that this coronavirus enters the dustbins of history for my children, and the vaccine is the only tool in the arsenal to make that dream a reality. For that reason, I encourage every parent to get their child vaccinated, so that our lives can once again approach being normal, as I refuse to accept this reality as the “new normal” and others should not either. Instead, we should envision a better world, where the coronavirus pandemic becomes an event we read about in history books, like the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918, as it no longer affects our daily life. We all have a civic duty to do everything to make that a reality, and thus should vaccinate our children the second it is available.

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