(photo credit: REUTERS)
Although the privatized School Health Service vaccinates around 96% of first to ninth graders against conventional children’s diseases, only 59% to 66% of eighth-grade girls around the country were vaccinated against the controversial human papilloma virus (HPV), claimed to protect against sexually transmitted cervical cancer.
In Jerusalem, the rate of free HPV shots in eighth-grade girls was a meager 23.8% for the first dose and 27.7% for the second shot, apparently due to the large number of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox families who say the vaccinations are “irrelevant” because the girls remain virgins until their marriage.
The HPV shot was introduced in the basket of health services and has been offered to eighthgrade girls for a couple of years.
But opponents of the vaccination claim that there were “serious health concerns” regarding the side effects of HPV vaccines and maintain that HPV is not a vaccination against cervical cancer, but against a virus that in some cases causes a premalignant condition, and in a small number of cases, a malignancy.
There are some 180 cases of cervical cancer in Israel each year, and half of the patients die of it, making it the lowest rate of cervical cancer in the world.
The critics argue that one would have thus have to vaccinate 20,000 girls to prevent one case. Instead, they endorse the use of Pap tests, removing cells from the cervix and testing them for pre-cancerous changes, to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
In the last school year, the ministry began to offer HPV vaccines for eighty-grade boys as well, but there were not statistics on how many actually received them. The ministry said that information campaigns among children and their parents will be boosted to encourage more to get HPV shots.
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In the report on the School Health Service for the school year of 2014/5, the Health Ministry said that it vaccinated about 1.3 million children against mumps, measles, rubella and varicella (MMRV) in first grade, and IPV (inactivated polio vaccine) and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis or whooping cough) in second grade The service is provided by the Natali company in the Jerusalem, Haifa and Northern Districts; by Pami Health in Tel Aviv and the Central Districts; and by the ministry’s public health nurses in the Southern District from Ashkelon southward.
The ministry conducted 1,870 online examinations to ensure that children are getting the shots they are supposed to get.
For years since privatization, there were many complaints about the private companies’ services, including those voiced by the state comptroller, that the vaccination rate was too low and that the private nurses did not conduct health tests, such as posture, hearing, height and vision, among the children.
Since then, the Southern District was returned to ministry responsibility, but no action was taken to de-privatize the services in the rest of the country despite recommendations by public health experts.
According to the report, the School Health Service also gave 2,100 third graders the shots that they missed in second grade “due to vaccine shortages” or the children’s absences.
Four years ago, the average rate of vaccinations against the conventional children’s diseases was only 92%.
The ministry said that School Health Service nurses also conducted almost-universal screening of vision and hearing problems. Health education by private nurses was, however, provided at lower rates.
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