Health Ministry D-G pleads with medical personnel to get H1N1 shots

Health Ministry D-G plea

Health Ministry Director-General Dr. Eitan Hai-Am has sent personal letters to all health system personnel to get their H1N1 (swine flu) shots and "serve as an example" to the public, apparently because many people are proving reluctant to get vaccinated. "I call on your professional and personal consciences and ask you to get vaccinated," wrote Hai-Am. Although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is also health minister, ordered 7.3 million doses of H1N1 vaccine, some 350,000 of which have already arrived, only a few tens of thousands - mostly medical staffers - have gone for vaccination, which is voluntary. Vaccine purchases to cover the whole population will cost NIS 500 million. Hai-Am, who rolled up his sleeve for his shot in front of cameras when the vaccination campaign officially began nearly two weeks ago (even though neither Netanyahu nor Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman did), said that the hospitalization and mortality rates from swine flu has "significantly exceeded that of seasonal flu." On Monday, two more people were listed as having died after H1N1 flu infections. One was a 51-year-old woman who did not suffer from any chronic illness but died of H1N1 complications at Ha'emek Medical Center in Afula. She was only the sixth case with no chronic diseases to die among the four dozen people listed as victims of the virus, even though it is very difficult without an autopsy to confirm H1N1 flu as the cause of death. The other victim was a 36-year-old man who did suffer from chronic illness and died at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. In the US, said Hai-Am, there have been almost 4,000 H1N1 deaths, about 3,500 of them below the age of 65. In Israel, 48 have died and 119 have been hospitalized in intensive care units. "The vaccine can prevent some of the sickness and deaths," the director-general said. If more medical personnel are not vaccinated, he continued, "it could disrupt the functioning of medical teams and even present a danger of them infecting high-risk patients." The Health Ministry announced Monday that people over the age of 65 may also receive the H1N1 vaccination. Until now, it was aimed at ages three to 65. Meanwhile, the ministry's weekly seasonal flu report noted that just 14 percent of the general population have been vaccinated since Rosh Hashana against the tried-and-true seasonal flu; just 54% of the high-risk group of elderly people over 65 have received the vaccine. Both seasonal and H1N1 flu shots are free and given at health fund clinics.