Israel expanded its COVID-19 vaccination drive on Sunday to include 16- to 18-year-olds in what the government described as an effort to enable their attendance at school exams.
Israel, which has the world's fastest vaccine distribution rate, is hoping to begin reopening its economy next month.
With regular imports of Pfizer Inc. vaccines, Israel has administered at least one dose to more than 25% of its 9 million population since Dec. 19, the Health Ministry says.
The vaccines were initially limited to the elderly and other high-risk categories, but are now available to anyone over 40 or - with parental permission - those between 16 and 18.
The inclusion of 11th and 12th graders is meant "to enable their return [to school] and the orderly holding of exams," an Education Ministry spokesperson said.
Israel awards a bagrut matriculation certificate to high school students in grades 10-12 who pass exams administered by the Education Ministry.
The results of those exams play a major role in acceptance to university and can also affect placement in the Israel Defense Forces, where many Israelis do compulsory service after high school.
The country has been under a third national lockdown since Dec. 27, which it plans to lift at the end of January.
Education Minister Yoav Galant told Ynet on Sunday that it was too early to know if schools would reopen next month. He said factors deciding this included how much Israel, which is struggling against a surge of infections, was affected by the contagious variant of the virus first detected in Britain.
Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Hezi Levi was asked Sunday in an Army Radio interview whether vaccinating teens might pose unforeseen risks - perhaps to their own yet-unborn children.
"I don't know," Levi said. "This vaccine is no different to vaccines against other viral diseases... and was successfully tested for side effects."
He added that he had no doubt that - weighing the relative risks from the coronavirus - it was preferable to get the vaccine.