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Just as the number of flu cases varies according to the seasons, the number of people who go for flu vaccinations tends to be influenced by the latest headlines.
Last year, after four elderly heart patients died soon after getting their flu shots (even though there was no connection), many people at high risk avoided immunization and tens of thousands of vials of vaccine were thrown out by the health funds.
Two years before that, outbreaks of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) abroad scared tens of thousands into getting influenza shots, even though the vaccine does not protect against SARS.
The Health Ministry and the health funds hope people have forgotten the headlines of yesteryear and that at least one million go to their health fund to get vaccinated right after Succot.
The vaccination is effective at preventing people from getting the flu or reducing the intensity for the minority who get it despite the vaccine. Avoidance of vaccination by high-risk individuals - adults over 55, people of any age with chronic disease or weak immune systems, pregnant women and children aged six months to two years, plus healthcare workers and caregivers of children and the elderly - could result in complications, hospitalizations and many deaths this winter.
Health Ministry chief epidemiologist Dr. Paul Slater told The Jerusalem Post that unlike 2006, when a foreign factory that was a major producer was closed down due to problems, there is "no shortage" of flu vaccine this year. "The vaccines are already here, and we have tested them. They are about to be released to the market."
Although they cost NIS 50 or so per shot in private pharmacies, the health funds provide them to their members at a much lower cost and free to high-risk individuals.
The trend in the Western world, said Slater, is to give flu vaccine to more and more people. Schoolchildren are the main spreaders of influenza, as they get it and infect others, including those at high risk.. Healthy people who are not easily replaced in their job should get it too. Within a year or two, the ministry will begin recommending a flu shot not only to babies and toddlers aged six months to two years, but up to five years, Slater said.
As the strains change every year, flu vaccine cannot be given the year after it was produced and last year's shot won't protect you against this year's virus.
Julie Gerberding, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, reported that contrary to last year, there is no shortage of flu vaccine there. "We have more manufacturers, more doses and more choices of vaccine than we've ever had," she said.
The CDC expects that as many as 132 million doses of vaccine will have been made available by January, 12 million more than during the previous flu season.
In addition, it is recommended that everyone over the age of 65 go for the Pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine, which is injected once in a lifetime and can significantly reduce the prevalence of this time of pneumonia.
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