Israel expands vaccination drive to include 16 to 18-year-olds in bid to save exams

Michael, a 16-year-old teenager, receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at Clalit Health Services, in Tel Aviv - Jack Guez/AFP
Michael, a 16-year-old teenager, receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at Clalit Health Services, in Tel Aviv – Jack Guez/AFP

Israel has started vaccinating teenagers as it expanded its world-leading Covid-19 vaccination campaign to 16-18 year-olds in an effort to get them back in schools to take their winter exams on schedule.

At least one dose has been administered to over 25 per cent of Israel’s 9.25 million population, with just over 10.5 per cent having received a second dose.

Working its way down its priority list, the vaccine in Israel is now available to anyone over 40 or, with parental permission, those aged between 16 and 18.

The winter matriculation certificate is a large part of university and military admissions.

Israel struck a deal with Pfizer at the beginning of January that allowed them to expedite delivery of the vaccine so that all over 16s would be inoculated by the end of March, in return for extensive data on their vaccination campaign to share with the world.

Israeli health minister, Yuli Edelstein, told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the data from their vaccination programme suggests a first dose gave just 30 per cent protection from coronavirus.

“We are just at the beginning of the (vaccination) campaign, we do see cases of people that after getting the first dose still get sick with the coronavirus,” he said.

“At the same time there are some encouraging signs of less severe diseases, less people hospitalised after the first dose, so at this stage, it’s very difficult to say.”

Mr Edelstein said Israel had decided to stick to the instructions given by Pfizer on how soon to give the second dose after the first.

“We are collecting every piece of information, we are hoping to be able to say very soon that the number of those hospitalised has gone down.”

Israel has come under widespread condemnation for excluding Palestinians, who live under Israeli occupation, from its vaccination campaign.

“As far as vaccination is concerned I think it is Israel’s obligation first and foremost to its citizens – they pay taxes for that, don’t they?” the health minister said.

“But having said that I do remember that it is our interest – not our legal obligation but our interest – to make sure Palestinians get the vaccine, that we don’t have Covid-19 spreading.

“If it is the responsibility of the Israeli health ministry to take care of the Palestinians, what exactly is the responsibility of the Palestinian health minister – to take care of the dolphins in the Mediterranean?”

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