Over 60% of Israeli parents have not vaccinated their children in schools against the flu, Kan news reported on Monday. Meanwhile, a 54-year-old woman died of flu-related complications bringing this season's death toll to 18.
The flu vaccine was offered to about 300,000 students in grades two to four, but 60% of parents throughout Israel refused the vaccine for their children. In Tel Aviv, 72% of the parents refused the offered vaccine.
Amid Tel Aviv fourth graders, 80% of the parents refused to vaccinate their children.
On Monday, a 54-year-old woman from northern Israel died in the Carmel Hospital in Haifa from complications caused by the flu, after she was hospitalized on Sunday in severe condition. This woman has become the 18th person to die because of the flu this season.
Vaccines in Israel continue to be in short supply, with some healthcare providers not expecting to have supplies for at least another week.
A report by the Israel Center for Disease Control (ICDC) showed that last week the raw rate of referrals to Maccabi Health Services clinics due to influenza-like illness exceeded the high activity threshold for the first time this season. Similar results were reported from Clalit Health Services.
The number of visits to internal medicine emergency rooms for pneumonia is above the multi-annual average, according to the ICDC. The report added that the total number of deaths recently is low and ranges around the multi-annual average. About 22% of the population has been vaccinated this season.
The ICDC reported that the influenza A (H1N1) strain of the flu, also known as Swine Flu, is the dominant strain affecting Israelis. In the USA, influenza B has been the most reported flu type, followed by H1N1.
The United States is being heavily affected by the flu as well, with an estimated 6.4 million flu illnesses, 55,000 hospitalizations and 2,900 deaths from the disease this season, according to the US Center for Disease Control.
Prof. Dr. Yaakov Lavi stated that “veteran doctors such as us have never encountered such aggressiveness with the disease, and this is a warning sign for us all.”
“I’ve seen flu patients for many years, but we’ve never encountered a flu this severe and aggressive,” said Lavi, stressing that a patient he was treating who is now in critical condition was a “completely healthy man. You can’t think, ‘this won’t happen to me.”
Prof. Itamar Grotto, deputy director general of the Health Ministry, added that flu in the winter is nothing new, but that the early and quick spread of the disease is unusual. “These two phenomena show that the peak is still ahead of us, and we definitely need to prepare for a winter that will not be simple.”
On Tuesday, Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman stated that anyone who doesn't get vaccinated may be invalidated from receiving certain benefits from the government, according to Walla! news.
Litzman called on Wednesday to establish a vaccine-production facility in Israel to allow Israel to better prepare for a larger population, without having to rely on international pharmaceutical companies, which may or may not be able to provide for Israel’s needs.
Due to delays by the World Health Organization, vaccinations were not offered in Israel at the expected dates but were delayed to early November.