All 7.3 million doses of H1N1 swine flu vaccine that Prime Minister (and nominal Health Minister) Binyamin Netanyahu ordered a few months ago are due to arrive here in January, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
But given the very slow rate of vaccination among those at high risk for complications of the pandemic flu, many doses are likely to be left unused.
Even individuals running a high risk of coming down with the flu have not yet been vaccinated. Only 150,000 people, including just 30 percent of medical personnel pressured by the government and their employers have gotten their shots.
The phenomenon of many people now declining to receive free flu shots has appeared not only here but in other western countries. Even in the US, where residents were in a panic about the swine flu, people are calming down.
So far, 69 Israelis have died since the spring after
being infected with the flu strain, and only in a few cases has there been direct proof that the deaths resulted from the infection and not from serious chronic illnesses from which they already suffered.
On Sunday, the four health funds began accepting the entire public over six months of age for H1N1 shots. Those who want it may ask for vaccine with adjuvant (which boosts its power but is not suited for pregnant women or children under three years); the vaccine may also be administered without adjuvant.
Meanwhile, Health Ministry public health director Dr. Itamar Grotto told the Post that Sanofi-Pasteur's recall last week of 800,000 of its pediatric doses of H1N1 vaccine because of low potency was irrelevant to Israel, as the ministry did not purchase such vaccine.
The Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police, the Prison Service, Magen David Adom and medical and social welfare institutions are providing the vaccine directly to their workers and individuals in their institutions if they wish, without them having to go to a health fund clinic.
Public health experts concede that if the H1N1 flu vaccine is not used within a year of manufacture, it will probably be unusable because the virus mutates. The government spent NIS 500 million for the vaccine alone, plus NIS 300 million to buy enough doses of Tamiflu, the anti-viral drug, for each Israeli resident, even though studies published in the British Medical Journal have shown this drug just shortens the flu by one day but has no proven effective in alleviating complications.
Anyone who is allergic to egg white should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician. As with all vaccines, people who get shots should stay under observation for 20 minutes after the vaccination in case of a rare reaction. There have been no reports of significant side effects from the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccinations, as they are made from killed virus strains.
Only about 15% of the Israeli population have gone for vaccination against the seasonal flu, which kills many hundreds of Israelis - most of them elderly and those with weak immune systems - every winter.