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Why did Israel disregard own experts' warnings, and push COVID shots on children?

Freedom of Information request reveals: Health Ministry knew of myocarditis cases mere weeks after vaccine rollout

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December 15, 2022

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06:15 AM

Why did Israel disregard own experts' warnings, and push COVID shots on children?

At the end of November, Director of Immunology at Bar Ilan University Professor Cyrille Cohen claimed his team of expert advisors to the Israeli government on COVID “sounded the warning” on myocarditis in young men following the COVID shots before anyone else in the world.

Cohen, who was speaking on French television regarding the COVID policies adopted by Israel, where he resides, is uniquely qualified to provide insight into the decisions taken by the Israeli government, as he was previously a member of the committee of experts advising the Israel Health Ministry on COVID. After around half an hour of answering questions on a variety of COVID-related topics, Cohen was suddenly faced with a point-blank question on whether there existed robust studies indicating that the vaccines were safe.

Cohen replied by stating that the side effects from the COVID shots were by and large similar to those seen following vaccination against other illnesses, albeit more frequently seen. He then added that in Israel, they had been “the first to warn of the dangers of myocarditis for young people between the ages of 18 and 25.”

Unsatisfied with this answer, his interviewer asked why young people were exposed to the dangers of myocarditis given that they had almost nothing to gain from the shots. Cohen concurred, describing the risk of people in this age group falling seriously ill from COVID as “zero," earning him a “bravo" from the interviewer who seemed somewhat taken aback by his candor.

However, the professor still tried to excuse the original policy of promoting the shots for young people, saying that the risk-benefit calculation back in mid-2021 seemed very different to the situation later, Omicron being far less severe than Delta or previously dominant variants. Ultimately, he was at a loss to explain why, in the face of the warnings, the Israeli government went ahead not only with vaccinating younger teenagers but also children, from as young as six months of age. In Cohen's case specifically, this is ironic given his initial insistence that only via “information, information, and information” would vaccine hesitancy be overcome in an Israeli population originally leery of being injected with an experimental substance that had been so swiftly developed and approved.

Prof. Cohen was not the only voice of caution advising the Israeli government back in 2021. And while he appears to claim some of the credit for sounding the warning on myocarditis, that warning was sounded behind the closed doors of the Israeli Health Ministry, not in public squares. 

Furthermore, Prof. Cohen claimed that his team sounded the warning in the summer of 2021. And yet, a Freedom of Information request revealed just this week that the Health Ministry knew of around 40 cases of myocarditis that they regarded as a “safety signal” in relation to the Pfizer shots as early as February, 2021; not only that, they relayed that signal to the relevant body within the European Union, asking them to share their own information.

The FOI request is heavily redacted and only some of the recipients of the Health Ministry email are left visible. It is also impossible to know from this email whether Prof. Cohen's team knew of the triggering of the safety signal, though it is virtually certain that they did, given that they were feeding the Ministry information, not the other way around. 

It is important to stress that the findings the email discusses relate to the very first weeks of the mass vaccination campaign. By February, when the email was sent, Israel had already expanded the program to the 16–18 age group. There is no indication anywhere that the pace of the campaign abated following this first warning of myocarditis known to date. By April, around five million Israelis, the vast majority of the eligible population, had been vaccinated. It was then that officials began suggesting that once all teenagers had received the shots, the country would reach herd immunity and younger children would not need to be vaccinated.

Around the same time, a report was leaked from the government's COVID committee of experts in which it was noted that around one in every hundred thousand people receiving the shots developed myocarditis. Most of the cases were in young men between the ages of 18 and 30, and the rate in this age group was much higher, around one in every twenty thousand people. Sixty-two cases had been identified thus far (that is, over 20 more than were noted in the email above), almost all after receiving the second dose. All 62 had been hospitalized, and two had died — a 22-year-old woman and a 35-year-old man — both apparently with no pre-existing medical conditions. 

The report was sent to the Israeli government as well as to Pfizer and the FDA in the United States. Responding to Israel's Channel 12, which publicized the leaked report, the Israeli Health Ministry issued a statement claiming that “the cited report does not show with certainty an increase in mortality due to the vaccine, nor is there any certainty that there is an increase in myocarditis compared to the same period last year.”

Indeed, the report itself concluded, "At the moment we believe that the vaccination plan should proceed as normal for those over 16. However, it should be noted that there is a possibility that we will see the same results in vaccinations of those aged 12 to 15.” 

Two months later that possibility was being tested as the government decided to lower the age of eligibility to 12 citing the “increased virulence” of the Delta variant. The decision led to some raised eyebrows at the World Health Organization (WHO) which advised postponing the vaccination of younger adolescents until more data was in. Notwithstanding the WHO's advice, Israel began what was described by many as a “very aggressive campaign,” marketing the shots directly to teens leading to a swift take-up of hundreds of thousands of doses.

Around the same time, the Health Ministry published a Summary of Myocarditis Events:

"Myocarditis is usually a mild disease . . . hospitalizations are usually short. . . . From December 2020 to May 2021, 275 cases of myocarditis were reported; of these, 148 cases occurred in close proximity to the vaccine [almost all after the second dose]. . . . Most cases were hospitalized for up to 4 days only and 95% were defined as mild cases. . . . There is a likelihood of a link between receiving a second vaccine dose and the onset of myocarditis among young men between the ages of 16 and 30. . .”

In fact, it was Professor Dror Mevorach, not Prof. Cohen, who sounded a public warning that month. Prof. Mevorach was the lead author of the leaked April report and far from being reassured by the government's platitudes, he stated that he was "convinced that somewhere between one in 3,000 and one in 6,000 young adolescents — mainly males — will experience myocarditis.” He therefore advised against vaccination for this age group, to no avail.

In November of 2021, the Health Ministry started promoting booster shots for everyone over the age of 12. At the same time, they were preparing the roll-out of shots for children between the ages of five and eleven.

That same month, Prof. Cohen told the Times of Israel: “COVID is not over. What exactly is in store for us right now depends on variants, the length of protection that the booster gives, and how many kids get vaccinated.”

Asked about side effects and whether they could be expected to differ from those seen in adults, he replied, “There could be some difference in side effects, but in general we don't expect to see considerable differences as your immune system functions largely the same when you are 5 compared to when you are 14.”

He then added, "People are talking a lot about possible side effects of vaccines but people aren't talking about the ongoing effects of COVID that we already see — a range of manifestations of coronavirus, such as heart problems, lung problems, and nervous system problems.” Cohen cited PIMS (pediatric inflammation multisystem syndrome), which has apparently led to one fatality in Israel.

The professor was also asked about data from the United States regarding injecting the under-12s, to which he replied, "We don't have precise data beyond the fact there were no reports of severe side effects like myocarditis . . . it's too early to draw detailed conclusions.” 

He added that he understands that parents may want to wait for more data, but “if there's a surge in cases and you haven't vaccinated, you may be putting your child at risk.”

To this day, the Israeli Health Ministry recommends COVID “vaccination” for all children from six months of age, citing the “dangers of long COVID,” concerns about PIMS, and even claiming without evidence that “the rate of myocarditis following COVID infection is three to four times higher than the rate of myocarditis following vaccination.”

 

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