JERUSALEM — Israel began a campaign to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds against the coronavirus on Tuesday ahead of expected gatherings over next week’s Hanukkah holiday, but the initial response from parents appeared to be slow.
By Monday night, parents had made appointments for only a little over 2 percent of children in that age group, according to figures published by the country’s main health services. Health officials said they were trying to persuade parents of the benefits of vaccinating their children without applying pressure or any form of coercion.
In a bid to reassure the public, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accompanied his son David, 9, to a vaccination center of the Clalit Health Services in the seaside town of Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.
“I call on all Israeli parents to come and have their children vaccinated,” Mr. Bennett said. “It is safe and it safeguards our children.” In a video posted on the prime minister’s official Twitter account, David said he had agreed to be filmed to encourage other children to get vaccinated. He said he was a little afraid at first but assured other children that “it really didn’t hurt.”
Earlier this month, the United States also began vaccinating 5- to 11-year-old children. A number of countries have approved vaccinations for children starting at 12 years old, but few aside from China, Israel and the United States are vaccinating younger children.
Israel has emerged in recent weeks from a fourth wave of the virus, with new daily cases dropping to several hundred from a peak of 11,000 in mid-September. Israeli officials attribute the sharp decrease in cases to a booster shot campaign, suppressing a wave driven by a combination of waning immunity five or six months after the second injection, together with the spread of the highly infectious Delta strain.
At least 80 percent of Israelis ages 16 and older have been vaccinated against the virus, but the numbers are lower in the younger age groups. More than four million Israelis have received a booster shot since August, out of a total population of nine million.
In the Palestinian-administered territories, after a late start and some early hesitancy, about three million doses have been administered, enough to cover about a third of the population with two doses.