The Health Ministry's much-heralded press conference to announce the launch of the campaign to vaccinate the public against the H1N1 virus has been delayed for over a week because busy Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - who pressed for the purchase of enough vaccine for everyone in the country even though many are expected to refuse the shot - wanted to host the event, The Jerusalem Post was told on Sunday.
The Prime Minister's Office denied this.
Meanwhile, three Israelis died after contracting H1N1 flu virus in recent days, the Health Ministry announced on Sunday.
The first, a 52-year-old man who suffered from serious chronic illness, died at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. The second was an obese 29-year-old man who was a heavy smoker and contracted the flu. He died at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba. The third was a 75-year-old woman with serious chronic illness who died at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The ministry said none of the cases could be proven to result from the swine flu, but they were listed as the 37th, 38th and 39th victims since April.
Although Netanyahu is officially the health minister, Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman - who runs the ministry - planned to brief the press last week on the vaccination campaign. The prime minister wanted the event to take place in the Prime Minister's Office, but apparently he will go to Tel Aviv to orchestrate the event. It may be held at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center early on Monday morning.
The general public will not be able to get their shots immediately, as it will be offered to medical teams in hospitals first. But as the vaccination is voluntary - unlike in much of the US - many hospital staffers are likely to refuse to be "guinea pigs."
Months ago, a quarter of those queried in a ministry poll said they would refuse to get an H1N1 shot. Many people who might take the shot are expected to wait to see whether anybody get sick or dies from the vaccine, even though it is made from the killed virus. The various brands have been shown effective in producing antibodies to the virus, but it has not been widely tested on people with chronic illness; most in clinical trials were healthy. Many public health officials believe the numbers refusing vaccination will grow, as "only" three dozen people, almost all of them with chronic illness, have died since April of this strain of flu, while hundreds die each winter from seasonal flu and only a minority of the public have come in for the seasonal flu shot so far.
The Health Ministry has already purchased and imported 350,000 doses of H1N1 flu vaccine out of a total of 2.3 million doses due to arrive by the end of March. The type brought in so far is not suited to very young children or pregnant women, who are at higher risk for complications of H1N1.