Israel expands COVID-19 vaccinations to all aged over 16
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will expand COVID-19 vaccinations to include anyone over the age of 16, officials said on Wednesday, after turnout for shots ebbed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seeking re-election on March 23, had hoped the vaccine drive and a third national lockdown now in its sixth week would allow the economy to reopen this month.
But serious cases of COVID-19 and deaths from the disease have risen, with the increase attributed mainly to highly communicable virus variants. This has offset gains from the vaccines.
“The reduction in morbidity has rather halted,” Nachman Ash, national pandemic-response coordinator, told Kan radio.
Around 35% of Israel’s 9 million population have received the Pfizer Inc-BioNTech vaccine, the Health Ministry says. But the day-to-day increase in vaccinees has averaged around 2.5% this week, down from 3.05% last week and 3.3% the week before.
The ministry said that, from Thursday, anyone aged over 16 could be vaccinated. Age eligibility had at first been limited to over-60s and gradually lowered to include over-30s and people aged between 16 and 18.
“Amazingly, while in some countries people are angry at their governments – almost to the point of revolt, at times – for not providing vaccines, here they are laying in storage,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told Galey Israel radio.
According to a poll aired by Kan, 31% of Israelis were unsure about whether to get the vaccine and 36% worried about its safety. Uncertainty about vaccine effectiveness against some coronavirus strains has stirred speculation that Israel could rescind the exemption from quarantine now accorded to vaccinees.
“Naturally, the more we go down from ages at which the risk is higher, more effort has to be made to bring the population out to get vaccinated,” Ash said.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch told 103 FM radio that children aged 12 to 16 could be vaccinated from April, pending regulatory approval. Including under-12s “will take at least another year,” he said.
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