(photo credit: Kaplan Medical Center)
Parents of premature babies born past the 31st week of gestation have to pay NIS 20,000 privately if they want to protect their infants from the potentially deadly respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), according to Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee acting chairwoman Orly Levy.
Speaking Monday at a meeting to mark International Premature Baby Day, Levy said that while preemies born before the 32nd week were entitled to receive the vaccine to protect them from serious respiratory infections and heart problems, those born a bit later were not.
RSV is one of the most common viruses to affect the respiratory systems in premature babies. It affects about 22,000 babies a year.
When discharged from the hospital, parents of preemies born between the 32nd and 35th weeks of gestation are advised to purchase the vaccine on their own; the cost is NIS 1,000 per kilo of their baby’s weight. If the state paid for vaccines for all the preemies who needed it and not just the smaller ones, it would cost a total of NIS 60 million a year, said Levy, who added that it would actually be a savings, as many premature infants who get sick return to the hospital for treatment.
About 25 percent of premature babies are not eligible for free vaccine. It is unfair, the Israel Beiteinu MK added, that parents who can afford to buy the vaccine can protect their babies while those who cannot afford it cannot.
According to Prof. Shaul Dolberg, head of neonatal intensive care at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, most of the parents of premature babies have low incomes.
“When I recommend the vaccine, they say they would have to sell their car or their home to afford it,” he said.
Oren Melberg and Tamar Katz, who have premature infants, said that “the feeling is terrible that your child could return to intensive care only because he didn’t get the vaccine.
Low-income parents such as students applied to a committee to make an exception, but were turned down.”
Levy called on the Health Ministry to conduct a comprehensive study
about the cost-efficiency of providing free vaccine to all, and in the
meantime to give it to babies who were at risk.
About 10% of all babies born in Israel are premature, according to the
ministry, and over 100,000 were born here between 2000 and 2008. About
1.5% were born before the 32nd week, and 6.5% between the 33rd and 36th
weeks. A third of preemies are part of a multiple pregnancy.
The ministry says it intends to ask the health basket committee to include RSV vaccine for larger preemies in the 2011 basket.
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