By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
About NIS 10 million will be spent by the Health Ministry in the coming weeks or months on a major media campaign to get some NIS 400m. worth of H1N1 flu vaccine into Israelis' blood vessels. The rare effort includes the print media, TV, radio, Internet and even ads in medical convention abstracts.
A few months ago Prime Minister (and nominal Health Minister) Binyamin Netanyahu and Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman stated at a press conference in Tel Aviv that a dose of vaccine would be purchased by the Treasury for every man, woman and child (and infants over the age of six months) to protect the public from the infection declared by the World Health Organization as a dangerous pandemic. It has killed about 12,000 people around the world so far. Eighty Israelis, most of them with chronic illnesses, died after getting infected with the virus.
According to ministry estimates, some 700 Israelis die of complications from the ordinary seasonal flu virus each year; most of them are elderly and other people with weak immune systems. The H1N1 victims are mostly younger and have included a few pregnant women.
The ministry deputy director-general in charge of information and international relations, Yair Amikam, says that the ministry "hopes that the entire public [of 7.3 million] will get their vaccinations." However, only about 4 percent of the population - including about 20% to 30% of medical personnel - have done so. As of last week, Netanyahu had not followed his own call for meeting one's civic duty, and Litzman had the head of his public health service give him the shot (rather than a female health fund nurse).
As winter peters out and the weather becomes milder, interest in getting a shot will probably decline.
If, as in other countries such as France, the government is left with huge stores of vaccine that the population declines to use even though it can save lives - and which are useful for a limited time due to virus-mutation threats - the professional level "will decide what to do with them," Amikam concluded.
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