Edelstein: By end of 2020, 4.2 million Israelis could receive flu vaccine

Health experts to begin discussing protocol for administering flu vaccine.

Vaccination against the flu (photo credit: CLALIT HEALTH SERVICES)
Vaccination against the flu
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Tuesday that the Health Ministry had ordered some 4.2 million flu vaccinations and he believed that despite challenges, all the doses purchased will arrive in the country by the end of the year.
Speaking Tuesday at the inauguration ceremony of three new operating theaters at Baruch Padeh Medical Center, Edelstein said that an additional 1.7 million more vaccines had been ordered this year, compared to last year. To date, about half a million have arrived in Israel and another 200,000 are expected to arrive next week.
The goal is that “anyone who wants to be vaccinated can do so, that there will not be a single citizen who wants to be vaccinated and won’t have a vaccine,” Edelstein said.
His spoke shortly after a meeting of the Knesset State Audit Committee that discussed Israel’s preparadness for the coming winter.
During the discussion, which was chaired by MK Ofer Shelah, the head of the Health Ministry’s Epidemiological Center, Emilia Anis, said that some 400,000 people have already been vaccinated against the flu this year, a record.
“There will be no shortage of flu vaccines,” Anis said. “More and more doses are arriving all the time.”
A global shortage of flu vaccines is expected this year due to increased demand amid fear of contracting flu and COVID-19. During the summer, it was reported that the manufacturers had only approved about half of the vaccines ordered by health funds.
Last week, Angela Irony, chief nursing and medical centers officer for the Maccabi Health Fund, told The Jerusalem Post that her organization had ordered 1.2 million vaccines, but was only able to secure 900,000 doses for its 2.3 million members.
Fearing that most people at risk may not be able to receive a vaccination if there is a mad rush, the Health Ministry issued a list stating who should have priority. There are 15 risk categories, ranked from one (highest risk) to 15. People 65 and older top the list, followed by those with pre-existing and chronic conditions or those who are obese. Others high in line include medical staff, babies and pregnant women.
At the Knesset, a representative of the Comptroller’s office said that this year it will be even more important to ensure that healthcare workers are vaccinated, since they work with patients with weak immune systems. In 2013, about 34% of healthcare workers were vaccinated, which is significantly lower than the average in other OECD countries, he said.
Prof. Zeev Feldman, chairman of the State Physicians Association, said that the Health Ministry promised that any medical worker who wants to be vaccinated against flu will be able to get a shot.
Anis said that her team would meet on Wednesday to begin discussions about a protocol to list the priority for coronavirus vaccine recipients, as well as a protocol for how to administer the flu and coronavirus vaccines at the same time, if that should be relevant.
One of the concerns that have been raised by hospitals is that they will find it difficult to distinguish between flu and COVID-19 patients, which have similar symptoms.
Anis said that the World Health Organization is putting together guidelines for the medical community on how to handle an influx of flu and coronavirus patients at the same time. The protocol begins with testing any patient who displays systems for coronavirus.
In order to identify and triage patients to the right department quickly, hospitals will require fast testing.
Israel recently rolled out the FDA-approved Sofia coronavirus test, which is performed using only respiratory specimens collected from individuals who are suspected of having coronavirus. The innovative technology provides results within 15 minutes.
The state is also considering purchasing a new 18-minute coronavirus test that would be run on its existing Roche Diagnostics analyzer machines, that are available at almost every Health Fund and hospital lab.
A 30-second coronavirus test is also being jointly developed by Israel and India and it is expected to be ready within weeks, according to Israeli Ambassador to India, Ron Malka, who spoke to the Indian news agency PTI earlier this month.