So far, about 12,000 people - including about 20 percent of personnel at the Hadassah University Medical Centers in Jerusalem - have been voluntarily vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus. This was revealed at Monday's meeting of the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee, whose members endorsed the government campaign to vaccinate as many Israeli residents as possible.
Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman conceded that initially, ministry professionals opposed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's decision to purchase enough vaccine - at a cost of NIS 500 million - for every Israeli over the age of six months. But he added that the professionals had eventually agreed to his policy, as the purchase price was largely determined by when the vaccine was ordered. Waiting would have made it more expensive, said Litzman.
He said that a group of Muslims who intended to go on the Haj to Mecca had asked to be vaccinated against H1N1 before they left. According to Litzman, Saudi Arabia hasn't purchased any vaccine even for its own residents.
Kadima MK Rahel Adatto, who is a gynecologist and lawyer by profession, said she initiated the session because she had doubts about the vaccine campaign. But she said she was impressed by the professionalism of the ministry.
"The problem is transparency and the way decisions are taken. I know that since the vaccination campaign began [last week], the willingness of the public to get the shots has been minimal, and it is not clear what the rate of vaccination and the final target are," Adatto said.
Two more Israelis - the 40th and 41st - have died in the past few days after becoming infected with the H1N1 virus, the Health Ministry announced on Monday. A 57-year-old woman suffering from serious chronic diseases died at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba on Shabbat after being found positive for the virus. The other was a 31-year-old man at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus who was infected with H1N1 and and died of a secondary bacterial infection.
Ministry director-general Dr. Eitan Hai-Am said the vaccinations were voluntary for all residents, that the policy was to encourage the public to get the vaccine through the use of information and education. "We prefer to disseminate information," he said. It was initially mandatory for all medical personnel in the US to get vaccinated in the US, but lawsuits in some states made it voluntary there.
Meanwhile, the ministry disclosed that only 13% of the general population have been vaccinated since September against the ordinary seasonal flu, which kills many times more Israelis each year than the H1N1 flu has since the spring. A little over half of high-risk groups such as the elderly have received their vaccination for seasonal flu.