Health Ministry gets first swine flu vaccine shipment

Health Ministry gets fir

Some 250,000 doses of Novartis injectible H1N1 flu vaccine arrived from Switzerland on Monday for examination, packaging, registration and storage by the Health Ministry. They were sent to the ministry's refrigerated storage facility in Petah Tikva. About 100,000 more doses are due to arrive by the end of this month and more are expected when winter arrives. The ministry will hold a press conference in Jerusalem next week to detail its plans for voluntary vaccination of high-risk groups, followed by others who want it. A ministry poll conducted over a month ago found that at least a quarter of the public have no intention of being vaccinated against swine flu, which has apparently killed 32 Israelis, compared to hundreds who die each year as a result of complications of ordinary, seasonal flu. Although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu insisted that enough vaccine be purchased by the Treasury to cover the whole population, it could be that many doses will be left unused if suspicious Israelis refuse to bare their arms. A few years ago, after two sick and elderly people died of chronic illness not long after getting a seasonal flu vaccine, then health minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, an octogenarian, got vaccinated in front of the cameras to prove it was safe. However, that public relations event did not persuade many people that it was worthwhile to get vaccinated, and many doses in the health funds' storage facilities went unused. They then had to be thrown out because they cannot be used the following year. The ministry is concerned that many Israelis will wait for some time after H1N1 vaccination begins to see whether anybody "dies from it." In the US, there have been demonstrations and threats of lawsuits by doctors and nurses who opposed mandatory vaccination of medical staffers. In Israel, no one will be forced to get the shots. The health funds are currently vaccinating - for free - all their members who come for seasonal flu vaccine shots. It is believed by some health authorities abroad that a seasonal flu shot could offer some protection against H1N1 flu as well. The World Health Organization notes that most people who get infected with H1N1 either never get sick or recover easily. But some high-risk individuals, including pregnant women, the obese, smokers and people with chronic illness endangered by infections are at risk. Influenza is the same when caused by seasonal and H1N1 strains, but the latter seems to be more infectious and can penetrate deep into the lungs to cause viral pneumonia. However, the virus does not seem to make people ill or kill its victims more frequently than does seasonal flu.