Although doctors recommend that everyone over the age of six months get vaccinated against influenza this year, the most urgent are the elderly, people of all ages suffering from chronic illnesses and weak immune systems, pregnant women, babies and toddlers.
However, the flu vaccination rate among the elderly is 20% lower than last year, with only 41% of those aged 65 getting the free shot from their public health fund compared to 49% of this population last year.
Last winter there were 7,287 confirmed hospitalized patients with influenza in Israel and 266 – about 3.6% of all confirmed hospitalized patients – died of flu complications.
This was disclosed at a meeting Monday of the Knesset Health Committee, whose chairman, MK Yoni Mashariki, said that because this situation can burden the hospitals, it poses danger in wartime. He called on the Health Ministry to give incentives to the four health to encourage the at-risk population to get vaccinated.
Effectiveness of vaccines
According to Dr. Roni Blank, a researcher at the Knesset’s Information and Research Center, about 80% of the deceased were aged 65 or older, which is unfortunate, since early vaccination is an effective way to avoid catching the flu and since the genetic structure of flu viruses changes from year to year.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing flu ranges from about 40% to 60% in the general population, provided that the available vaccines match the common flu viruses.
The effectiveness also depends on other factors, including the age of the person being vaccinated and their health condition. The effectiveness of vaccinations does decrease among those 65 and older, but it is still significant. This winter, the vaccination rate of the population at large is only 10.4%.
Mashriki wondered whether the health funds have the nursing manpower required to carry out vaccinations, in light of the war, and how the evacuees who are in a place with a high infection rate – such as hotels –are being vaccinated.
Tired of shots
Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, dean of Ben-Gurion University’s School of Public Health, suggested that Israelis are apparently “tired” of shots after having to get so many COVID-19 shots and due to the fact that they are not sufficiently aware of the risks of not being protected.
Health Ministry deputy director-general in charge of health insurance Lior Barak said that the flu vaccines are in the health basket and are free to all Israelis. The ministry provides financial aid of NIS 150 million to the insurers so they don’t charge co-payments from the vaccinated. Evacuees in hotels are also getting flu shots.
Dr. Roi Singer, director of the ministry’s epidemiology department, added that the current vaccine that is available is still reasonably protective, while Prof. Galia Rahav, chairman of the Association for Infectious Diseases, claimed on the other hand that many experts in the world are already recommending a new quadrivalent influenza vaccine – this means the influenza vaccines are quadrivalent that protects against four flu strains and not three and that many countries are already using it.