Israel Includes Teens in Vaccination Drive

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
Vials of vaccinations against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and syringes are seen as Israel continues its national vaccination drive at a Maccabi Healthcare Services branch in Ashdod. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Israel expanded its COVID-19 vaccination drive on Sunday to include 16- to 18-year-olds.

Israel, which has the world’s fastest vaccine distribution rate, is hoping to begin reopening its economy next month.

With regular imports of Pfizer Inc. vaccines, Israel has administered at least one dose to more than 25% of its population since Dec. 19, the Health Ministry says.

The vaccines were initially limited to the elderly and other high-risk categories, but are now available to anyone over 40 or – with parental permission – those between 16 and 18.

The inclusion of late-teens is meant “to enable their return (to school) and the orderly holding of exams,” the Education Ministry spokeswoman said.

The country has been under a third national lockdown since Dec. 27, which it plans to lift at the end of January.

Education Minister Yoav Galant said it was too early to know if schools would reopen next month. Among factors deciding this was how much Israel, which is struggling against a surge of infections, was affected by the contagious variant of the virus first detected in Britain, he said.

Dr. Chezi Levy, director general of the Health Ministry, was asked in an Army Radio interview whether vaccinating teens might pose unforeseen risks.

“I don’t know,” Levy said. “This vaccine is no different … [from] vaccines against other viral diseases … and was successfully tested for side effects.” He added that he had no doubt that – weighing the relative risks from the coronavirus – it was preferable to get the vaccine.