Ben-Gurion University president Prof. Rivka Carmi called on the government on Monday to expand immediately the basket of vaccinations for babies and schoolchildren and improve the quality of coverage so it will reduce their exposure to infectious diseases.
Carmi, a physician, geneticist, pediatrician and former dean of BGU's medical school, was speaking at the Beersheba Conference for the Child, organized by the National Council for the Child, BGU and the Beersheba Municipality.
The two-day conference is slated to include a special session on vaccines against childhood illnesses, including addressing the refusal of a growing number of parents to allow their children to get the shots.
Lifesaving vaccines not paid for by the Health Ministry include vaccines against rotavirus, chicken pox, papilloma virus (which causes cervical cancer), whooping cough and pneumococcal pneumonia.
The BGU president also said she was concerned about reports that there had been failures to vaccinate children by the Association for Public Health. The APH, a non-profit organization, took over school health services nationwide less than a year ago when the Treasury insisted that the responsibility be transferred from the Health Ministry.
Two weeks ago, the APH vaccinated 100 first graders in Givatayim against measles, mumps and German measles, but discovered that it had injected harmless sterilized water rather than the active vaccine. A few days later, the 100 children had to get repeat shots.
APH director Yehuda Cohen, a former Health Ministry economist, said the vaccine always arrives in powdered form with an empty syringe and a container of sterile water, but the defective batch had come with the water already inside the syringe, leading nurses to inject the water only. The APH reported the incident to the children's parents and to the Health Ministry. The employees had not noticed the powder in the package, he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview.
But the APH also suspects that its hired nurses may have been motivated by their demand to still be recognized as state employees - with all the residual benefits - rather than workers for the voluntary, non-governmental organization.
Carmi said it was also possible that the APH was using nurses who have not been adequately prepared to provide school health services.
"We want to raise a generation of healthy children, who enjoy a good quality of life. High-quality vaccines given in time will protect our children from infectious diseases which, without vaccine, can cause high risks and complications," she said.
The BGU president also said that more attention must be given to children of the western Negev, who are growing up in an atmosphere of ongoing war and rocket attacks from Gaza. She praised the director of the National Council for the Child, Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, and his staff for their decision seven years ago to hold the council's annual conference in Beersheba and stress the importance of Israel's periphery.
"Nothing should be taken for granted, as it is much more 'attractive' to hold conferences in the center of the country," she concluded.
A feature on the Association for Public Health and its school health services will appear on The Jerusalem Post's Health Page on Sunday.