meeting Thursday night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Minister Yuval Steinitz and Litzman agreed that the Health Ministry
would, in the coming days, purchase options to buy vaccines worth
approximately NIS 20 million from a leading European pharmaceutical
concern. The vaccines are due to be available at the start of 2010.
Swine flu vaccine manufacturers are on track to start
delivering the first batches in September, the World Health
Organization said Thursday.
Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO's vaccine director, said several
drug-makers had started testing swine flu vaccine in humans, and that
early safety results should be available next month, clearing the way
for its use. Kieny also insisted that speeding the vaccine to the
market would not compromise its safety.
Litzman and Peres also discussed how the health system was
bracing itself for the winter, when the ordinary seasonal flu - which
is more much deadly and hits unvaccinated elderly and weak individuals
the hardest - is expected to arrive. The ministry said the H1N1 flu
could cause the deaths of 700 Israelis in 2010, but that this was only
Last week, Netanyahu gave orders to purchase enough H1N1
vaccine - at a cost of NIS 450m. - to protect every Israeli, even
though public health experts inside and outside the Health Ministry say
it should be given only to people at high risk for complications. The
Treasury insists that the vaccine be covered by the NIS 430m.
allocation previously agreed upon for expanding the 2010 basket of
health services, but Litzman insists that it be paid for by a separate
Treasury allocation, as the basket expansion is needed for more
lifesaving and life-extending drugs.
In addition, vaccinating the population involves a number of
serious problems. The vaccine would be new and customized for the H1N1
strain, unlike that for seasonal flu, in which safety has been proven
in hundreds of millions of people who have received it - with slight
variations - every year for decades. The experimental vaccines are only
now beginning to be tested on relatively small groups of healthy
people, but not on adults and children suffering from chronic diseases
or on pregnant women.
Although seasonal flu kills about 1,000 elderly, infants and
chronically ill Israelis each winter and the protective vaccine is
recommended for a large portion of the population, only hundreds of
thousands of people go to their health funds in a given fall or winter
for the free vaccination.
The Health Ministry has not conducted a public survey to
determine whether Israelis - made nervous by reports of a handful of
complications and deaths - are willing to roll up their sleeves for two
shots of H1N1 flu vaccine and one shot of seasonal flu vaccine.
However, the ministry is planning such a poll. Yet even if a fraction
of Israelis say they want the vaccine, the ministry will order all the
supplies needed to protect the public.
In addition, the H1N1 virus could mutate by the time a vaccine
is marketed, making the shots useless, or supplies may arrive too late
to have any protective effect.
Litzman, who was planning a short visit to the US starting
Sunday for other official purposes, told Peres he intended to meet
American health officials as well and ask for Israel to have a chance
at obtaining some of its future H1N1 supplies, despite being in
competition with the larger countries that have already put in their
Asked why the US would be willing to share some of its supplies
with Israel when other countries may be in greater danger, one of
Litzman's spokesmen said, "Is it forbidden to ask for it?"
He declined to disclose the original reasons for the deputy minister's visit to the US.
Since a 12-year-old girl suffering from a serious genetic
disease died of cardiac arrest Wednesday after recovering from an H1N1
flu infection, the Health Ministry has decided to change the way it
counts victims of the virus.
The girl, who died at the Schneider Children's Medical Center
in Petah Tikva
, was originally named by the ministry as the third
fatality from the flu outbreak. But on Thursday, the ministry said it
had decided to include in the list the 44-year-old man who died last
week at Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital) after
recovering from the infection.
"In some cases, there is doubt, and we can't absolutely rule
out the possibility that H1N1 infection was involved in a case of
death," the ministry spokeswoman said. "So we now regard four Israelis
as having died from H1N1 complications."
The girl, who suffered from chronic illnesses, was treated last
week with the anti-viral drug Tamiflu, which can reduce complications
of H1N1 flu. She was sent home, but then suffered cardiac arrest. She
was rushed back to Schneider and admitted to the intensive care unit.The ministry said the government had no plans at
this time to keep schools and kindergartens closed after the end of the
school vacation on September 1 due to the H1N1 outbreak. But teachers
and caregivers will be asked to teach the children to wash their hands
with soap and water at regular intervals.
On Wednesday, day-care centers and after-school
programs under the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry received strict
directives on how to reduce the threat of swine flu among children in
"Children are at a greater risk of contracting the virus," said
Tamar Almog, director of the Department of Day-care Centers and
Kindergartens in the ministry. "We need to take precautions."
The instructions from the ministry included keeping children at
home if they exhibited any signs of illness; watching vigilantly for
initial signs, such as a high fever or runny nose; immediately
quarantining children who did turn out to have the flu; and immediately
contacting the local health care department if more than one child
contracted the virus.
Meanwhile, the half-dozen companies in the race to produce safe
H1N1 vaccine for a world population that would break their doors down
to get supplies are seeking healthy individuals to try it out.
IPS Research, a company in Oklahoma City, is accepting 200
participants aged three to eight and over 65 for its clinical drug
trial. Without proof of safety, no vaccine will receive approval from
the US Food and Drug Administration.
Boston vaccine company called Replikins has a synthetic vaccine that
has not yet completed human clinical trials. A Virginia-based company,
MedImmune, has announced that it could have more than 200 million doses
of its H1N1 vaccine - an unusual nasal spray rather than shot - within
weeks of getting FDA approval. The Swiss pharmaceutical company
has also developed an experimental vaccine based on using
cells as a medium and a wild-type virus rather than chicken eggs as the
place for growing it.
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.