January 23, 2022

What does the first data of the Israeli campaign say?

Vaccination against Covid-19 for children aged 5 to 11 years with risk factors begins this Wednesday in France. The data from Israel, where the youngest can already be vaccinated, are rather reassuring.

Since the arrival of vaccines against Covid-19, Israel has been a laboratory state. He wants to be a resolute pioneer in the field of vaccination. While France does not begin to inoculate its first doses every 5-11 years – moreover presenting a particular risk of infection – only this Wednesday, Israel initiated this step on November 22.

Public support, effectiveness, possible side effects: the results of its campaign aimed at the youngest are therefore scrutinized with international interest. On the spot, the scientific authorities and the specialists do not hide it: the elements are still lacking to form an overall vision on the vaccination of children, but the first findings are encouraging.

“The wave of children”

As of November 20, two days before the extension of the campaign to the youngest, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett set a new health horizon in the eyes of a nation already seeing the dawning of yet another epidemic resumption on its soil.

“It’s the wave of children,” he explained, as the daily Haaretz noted here.

Behind this observation, a figure put forward by the head of government: in mid-November, 49% of new cases of Covid-19 were linked to children.

Three weeks later, it’s already time for the first lessons. In duplex this Wednesday morning on our antenna, Professor Cyrille Cohen, director of the immunotherapy laboratory at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv and member of the Advisory Council on the effects of the vaccine to the local Ministry of Health, a make the point.

“We do not yet have enough long-term data,” he admitted at first. “But in the short term – for the first dose because we are only starting for the second dose – we did not see any alarming signals apart from a little fatigue, fever, body aches etc.”

The delays in vaccination, the reluctance of parents

The same inconvenience, therefore, as for their parents. The second lesson of the Israeli vaccination of 5-11 year olds is also the latter. The process seemed to go on in slow motion as households are so reluctant to have an injection in the arm of their offspring. “8 to 10% of Israeli children have received this vaccine three weeks after the start of their vaccination,” Cyrille Cohen added this Wednesday morning, adding:

“There is still hesitation, there is less precipitation compared to what has been observed for other sections of the population.”

In strictly numerical terms, as pointed out Haaretz, this percentage represents 110,000 children aged 5 to 11 out of the 1.2 million eligible. This is even less so in Canada, which only turned its syringes in the direction of the same age group three days after Israel, we have already reached a rate of 17.9% of young immunized, and that in the United States – where the company certainly started on November 3 – we have already passed the 18% threshold in this category.

A study conducted in Israel from November 3 to 8, 2021 – before the launch of this new campaign – by Washington University in Saint Louis, deciphered here by the Brookings Institute, saw the pitfall coming. According to the authors of the study, parents are especially reluctant in front of a lack of transparency of the health authorities in this matter. But the degree of skepticism decreases with the age of the patient:

“The intention to vaccinate his children rises from 30% with regard to children of five years to 46% with regard to those of 11 years”, can one read in particular on the site of Brookings.

398 children hospitalized

A problem of opacity and perhaps access. Cyrille Cohen has noted a sharp rise since vaccination has been installed – as of this Monday only – in schools across the country.

“In some localities, they were at 0.5 or 1% vaccination and when she got to school we went in two days from 1% to 20% of children vaccinated.”

An acceleration undoubtedly welcome because although the pandemic is hitting children less fiercely, tragedies threaten hospitals. Doctor Efrat Wexler, director of the pediatric service of the Israeli Health Insurance Meuhedet, quoted by the Jerusalem Post Tuesday, supported a grim picture:

“In most cases, the disease will indeed be mild for the youngest children, but in Israel there are 398 children hospitalized in a condition classified as moderate to critical and eleven have died.”

The Israelis and the French watch the Americans

Cyrille Cohen however wants to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“The signals we are receiving from the United States, where five million children are vaccinated and where the Center for Disease Prevention (CDC) says we have not seen any particular signals are also very reassuring.”

And that’s good, because before possibly generalizing vaccination to all of its 5-11 years, France is waiting for the American experience feedback. According to the French Vaccine Strategy Orientation Council, US data – currently being collected – could be known by “the end of the month”.

Robin Verner BFMTV reporter