COVID-19, flu in winter could mean ‘catastrophe’ for Israeli hospitals

The US National Academy of Medicine has said that it expects the number of people who die of flu this year to double or even triple. 

Pre-filled M-001 universal flu vaccine syringes  (photo credit: BIONDVAX)
Pre-filled M-001 universal flu vaccine syringes
(photo credit: BIONDVAX)

Low turnout for the flu vaccine could lead to a spike in influenza and once again threaten to overwhelm Israel’s hospitals, health officials said.

“There is a real concern about the decline in the rate of people vaccinating for both flu and coronavirus,” said Dr. Ehud Drucker, deputy of the Emergency Medicine Department at Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital. “A combination of both viruses doubles the chances of serious illness and mortality, alongside a return to impossible workloads in the country’s hospitals. Flu and corona could be a catastrophe.”

Drucker said that many people, especially young ones, have become complacent now that they have received a third shot of the COVID vaccine and because there was no flu in Israel last year, and are therefore choosing not to get inoculated against the flu.

He said this is exacerbated by a reduction in hygiene habits this year over last, when people were more fearful of catching coronavirus because they had not been vaccinated.

The flu season has already started, according to head of Public Health Services Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, and she said that there are already several dozen cases in Israel.

 Health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Jerusalem, October 3, 2021.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Jerusalem, October 3, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The hospitals, even as coronavirus cases go down, are still very full, said Prof. Eli Lev, director of the Division of Cardiology at Assuta. He said that in his own unit, doctors are seeing a “huge surge” in patients hospitalized with acute heart conditions, mainly because they did not want to come in for help during COVID peaks.

“Some are in very severe condition from delaying coming to the ER,” Lev said.

Drucker said that failing to vaccinate against flu alongside a fifth wave that could come as Israel further opens its airports could amount to the most severe wave yet.

“People do not understand that the flu can be a very serious disease, which already today leads to the deaths of tens of thousands of people a year worldwide,” Drucker added.

The US National Academy of Medicine has said that it expects the number of people who die of flu this year to double or even triple.

Alroy-Preis said that masks can help protect against flu, as well as coronavirus, and that “what Israel did very courageously, giving the booster, allowed us to enter the winter in a better place.

“But we still have around 180 people ventilated from corona, we still have more than 50 individuals on ECMO machines, and we need to make sure that those numbers go down.”

Drucker said there is no health risk in getting the flu and the coronavirus vaccines a few days apart or even at the same time.

“We need to call on people to come and get that done,” he said.