Health funds prepare for annual round of flu shots

Vaccination is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months; injection is available for free to all Maccabi, Clalit members.

Flu vaccine 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Flu vaccine 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israelis who have gotten used to the idea of bringing their young children to well-baby centers for two-drop oral polio vaccination should now prepare to roll up their sleeves and their children’s for their annual influenza shots.
The vaccination is recommended for everyone over the age of six months, especially but not only pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems.
Now that the High Holy Days are over and the weather has turned cool, the flu season is on its way. Complications of the flu annually bring throngs of patients to hospital internal medicine departments, causing overcrowding and exhausted medical teams.
Although the killed-virus vaccine does not prevent all cases of the flu, those who have been vaccinated are much less likely to have a case with serious complications. Children up to the age of five are at high risk for flu complications, usually filling pediatric wards in the winter.
The most common symptoms of the infectious disease are chills, fever, runny nose, sore throat, muscle pains, headache (often severe), coughing, weakness/fatigue and general discomfort. It is considerably more dangerous than the common cold, for which there is no vaccine.
Maccabi Health Services and Clalit Health Services were the first to announce their flu vaccine campaign on Tuesday. The injection is available for free to all health fund members, who need merely to turn up at their local clinic; no appointment is necessary.
Any needle-fearing person who wants the Flumist flu vaccine in nasal spray form, which is painless but also somewhat less effective, must present the clinic nurse with a doctor’s prescription and pay a fee of NIS 21 at Maccabi.
Maccabi, the country’s second- largest health fund, said that two of the flu strains from last year – California A (swine flu) and Victoria A – would be threatening people around the globe this year as well. The third strain, called Massachusetts B, is new. Flu vaccine is effective for only one year at a time.
Maccabi purchased 663,000 doses of flu vaccine, about 15 percent more than last year.
Dr. Giora Verber, deputy director of Clalit’s medical branch, said that people’s willingness to get vaccinated was growing every year.
“The public understands that the vaccine provides effective protection against the flu and the spread of disease,” he said.
Clalit, the country’s largest health fund said it would start giving flu shots on Thursday, as did the third-largest, Kupat Holim Meuhedet (which did not make an official announcement).
Clalit has ordered and received a million doses, including 25,000 of Flumist.
The health fund said the nasal spray vaccine was meant for ages two through 49.
Last year, Clalit vaccinated 800,000 of its members. It is charging members with supplementary health insurance NIS 10 for a dose of Flumist up to the age of 18, and NIS 49 for people older than 18.
There is no problem administering flu vaccinations to children who have already received the oral polio vaccine, Clalit said.
Kupat Holim Leumit, the smallest health fund, did not announce its plans for flu vaccination.
All medical staffers, old-agehome employees and others in direct contact with people at high risk are offered vaccine at their workplaces’ expense.
The Health Ministry has not yet made any announcement urging residents to get their flu shots, perhaps because it has been too busy with its polio vaccine campaign, but it did recommend them in previous years.