400,000 Israelis have already been vaccinated against the flu

400,000 Israelis have already been vaccinated against the flu

The Israeli health system estimates that significant sections of the public will not be vaccinated against seasonal flu, according to a presentation that took place Tuesday at the Knesset. However, according to the Health Ministry there will be enough vaccines available.

The Knesset State Audit Committee discussed Israel’s preparation for the coming winter on Tuesday morning. During the discussion, which was chaired by MK Ofer Shelah, the manager of the Health Ministry’s Epidemiological Center, Emilia Anis, said that some 400,000 people have already been vaccinated against flu this year – a record – although Israel has still not received all of the vaccine doses it ordered. “There will be no shortage of flu vaccines,” Anis said. “More and more doses are coming all the time.”There is a global shortage of flu vaccines this year, due to increased demand amid fear of contracting flu and COVID-19. As such, already over the summer, it was reported that the manufacturers had only approved about half of the vaccines ordered by the 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 has 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. He said that in 2013, about 34% of healthcare workers were vaccinated, which is significantly lower than the average in other OECD countries. Prof. Zeev Feldman, chairman of the State Physicians Association, said that the Health Ministry promised that any medical worker who wants to be vaccinated will have access to the flu vaccine.Anis said that her team would be meeting on Wednesday to begin discussions about a protocol and list of priority recipients for the coronavirus vaccine, as well as a protocol for how to administer the flu and coronavirus vaccines at the same time, if that becomes relevant. 

One of the concerns that have been expressed by the hospitals is that they will have a difficult time distinguishing between flu and COVID-19 patients, which have similar symptoms. In order to identify and triage patients to the right department quickly, they 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. This innovative technology provides results within 15 minutes. The country is also considering purchasing a new 18-minute coronavirus test that would be run on the country’s existing Roche Diagnostics analyzer machines, which are available in almost every Health Fund and hospital lab.

There is also a 30-second coronavirus test being jointly developed by Israel and India that 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.

Anis stressed that she does not believe there will be a shortage of flu vaccines for those most in need. She added 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, of course, begins with testing any patient who displays systems for coronavirus.

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