Holed up in a nuclear-safe bunker during an unprecedented COVID drill, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday called on parents of 5- to 11-year-olds to inoculate their children, as Israel expands its vaccine drive to its youngest population yet.
“There is no reason to leave our children unprotected,” Bennett said, speaking from the underground bunker during a simulation testing nationwide preparations for a hypothetical outbreak of a new, lethal, COVID-19 variant.
The day-long “Omega Drill,” named for a fictitious variant of the virus, is said to be the first of its kind held anywhere in the world.
“There is no reason that your child should get infected and infect others when his whole life is ahead of him,” the premier said. “I call on parents – vaccinate your children. Safeguard them. Give them the same layer of protection that you have.”
The Health Ministry approved expanding the country’s vaccine drive to children on Wednesday evening, following the lead of the United States Food and Drug Administration.
But later in the day, Health Ministry director general Nachman Ash said that the first shipment of the special Pfizer COVID vaccine designed for younger children has yet to arrive in Israel.
“It will arrive some time in the next few days or maybe up to two weeks,” Ash told Channel 13.
Ash also said that there will not be pressure on parents to vaccinate younger children, and that tests for children under 12 to enter certain events will remain free — unlike for those over age 12 who are not vaccinated.
During Thursday’s simulation, Bennett said, “Just like the Delta strain broke out violently, other even more deadly and more infectious strains could come, which could bypass the vaccine.”
Participating officials simulated a wide range of scenarios, coordinating on how they would affect movement restrictions, quarantine requirements, the operation of schools and airports, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
“While it is possible to wait and see what will be and to hope for the best,” Bennett said, “the right thing to do is to prepare for any scenario, and make sure that all government ministries are ready, that hospitals know how to deal with extreme scenarios, and that the scientists are carefully monitoring every variant that appears in the world while it is still small.”
The drill was run by Defense Ministry Director of Civil Defense Moshe Edri and included participation from of ministry heads from various government offices, as well as representatives from the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command, the National Security Council and the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.