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An 18-year-old teenager receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at Clalit Health Services in Israel's Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv. (AFP)
An 18-year-old teenager receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at Clalit Health Services in Israel's Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv. (AFP)

This country is vaccinating teens to slow Covid-19 infections among the young

  • Israel has approved the Covid-19 vaccine for anyone over 16, as it pushed ahead with its inoculation drive
  • The country won't inoculate anyone under that age

Israel began administering coronavirus vaccines to teenagers Saturday to target a demographic suspected of accelerating the country's Covid-19 outbreak.

Israel has approved the Covid-19 vaccine for anyone over 16, as it pushed ahead with its inoculation drive, with a quarter of the population now vaccinated, health officials said. The country won't inoculate anyone under that age.

With the capacity to handle about 2 lakh people a day, Israel's health authorities are able to vaccinate the country's approximately 3 lakh 16- to 18-year-olds high-school students in short order, but the challenge will be to ensure everyone shows up for a shot.

Since the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations one month ago, over 2.5 million of Israel's nine-million-strong population have been vaccinated already, the health ministry has said.

Expanding the campaign to include teens came days after Israel has extended till the end of the month its third national Covid-19 lockdown due to a surge in coronavirus infections.

Ministry of Health data show that Israel's younger population is far more likely to test positive for Covid-19, with 10- to 19-year-olds making up 21% of known infections.

The 20- to 29-year-old age group accounts for 19% of known infections.

The health ministry had earlier announced it was allowing the inoculation of high school students aged 16-18, subject to parental approval.

"They are the megaspreaders," The Wall Street Journal quoted Ido Hadari, director of government relations at Israel's Maccabi Healthcare Services, as saying. "If we vaccinate these guys they will stop being spreaders."

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the swift vaccination campaign "will afford us the possibility of overcoming the coronavirus, of emerging from it, of opening the economy and getting life back to routine".

Israel's largest health fund, Clalit, was already giving teens shots as of Saturday morning, its website said, while the three smaller funds were due to kick off their campaign later.

The country is leading the world's fastest vaccination campaign, so far administering the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to almost 30% of its population since starting in late December.

Israel has also received some shipments of the Moderna vaccine, but so far is mainly relying on Pfizer.

However, health officials still say that they are racing against time. The fast-spreading new UK variant of Covid-19 has made its way into the country, while Israelis are bristling under a third lockdown even as the government widens the vaccination campaign.

Daily recorded virus cases had reached about 10,000 a day earlier this week, but on Friday those levels eased to about 7,000 new cases.

The country will give what officials are calling a green passport to those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 that will allow them to avoid quarantine after flying and eventually go to public places like cinemas, stadiums and restaurants.

With agency inputs

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