Flu vaccines expected to arrive in Israel late this year

"The best policy would be to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

An Israeli medical worker holds vials containing a vaccine for H1N1 flu virus in Tel Aviv, 2009 (photo credit: HEIDI LEVINE/POOL/REUTERS)
An Israeli medical worker holds vials containing a vaccine for H1N1 flu virus in Tel Aviv, 2009
Israel has ordered 4.5 million flu vaccines for this winter but only a small amount have so far arrived from abroad, Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto has told The Jerusalem Post.
While Grotto said he expected the vaccine order to be delivered in full “because we are a small country,” and the number required was relatively small, he admitted that there was a delay in shipments, as suppliers are sending the consignments in stages and it was likely that the last one would arrive only towards the end of December.
Grotto said two types of vaccine had been purchased: an oral version that can be administered to people aged under 50, and the standard type that can benefit all patients. Not all the health funds have been able to secure all the vaccines they requested, however.
Angela Irony, chief nursing and medical centers officer for the Maccabi Health Fund, told the 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.
Most years, some 450,000 to 500,000 Maccabi members get vaccinated, so she said the fund’s shipment nevertheless represented almost double the number that is usually needed. But she said that demand in Israel for flu vaccines has skyrocketed, as people are nervous about a flu season that will be compounded by coronavirus.
Maccabi has so far vaccinated some 130,000 people.
“Internationally, they did not make enough this year,” Irony said, “because requests have increased this year due to coronavirus. Countries worried first about themselves before selling vaccines elsewhere.”
Israel imports all its flu vaccines because it does not have the facilities to manufacture them here.
Fearing that most people at risk may not be able to receive a vaccination if there is a mad rush, the Health Ministry has issued a list stating who should have priority.
Irony explained that there are 15 risk categories, ranked from one (highest risk) to 15. People aged over 65 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.
People eligible for the flu shot will be invited by their health fund, she said. Vaccinations will be administered by appointment only when there are no sick patients in the clinic.
“People are stressed and they want to rush to get vaccinated,” Irony said. “But it is important that the most at-risk receive the vaccine first because these are the same people that could end up in hospital requiring ventilation. We want to save the ventilators for coronavirus patients.”
She said that if by the end of December there were remaining vaccines, those with lower risk factors will be able to be vaccinated.
Grotto said: “We want to get everyone as fast as possible” but even if took time, there was no need to rush. “We just need to have everyone vaccinated by the end of December.”
Research has shown that people can be infected with both the flu and coronavirus at the same time – and that having both could be more dangerous, while suffering from one illness could increase the risk contracting the other.
In countries where the flu season has already begun, lowered rates of flu infection have been reported. Irony said that medical professionals believe that this is because social distancing and other preventative measures implemented for coronavirus are also effective in preventing flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 and flu are spread in a similar mode, via person-to-person contact, or between people who are within about two meters of each other. Both infections spread mainly through droplets that are exhaled when people with the illnesses cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby and could be inhaled into their lungs.
“More people will want to be vaccinated,” Eyal Leshem, director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center, said in a previous interview. “We really cannot tell how this will play out – and the best policy would be to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.