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A Health Ministry committee is expected to call for adding a second chicken pox immunization and a pneumococcal vaccine to the basket of state-funded youth immunizations.

This is expected to be part of the Health Ministry's epidemiology and immunization steering committee's recommendations to be submitted later this week. The changes are to start with the 2008 budget and continue for five years.

Last week the committee unanimously agreed to the changes. "In keeping with recommendations accepted this month in the U.S., a second vaccination against chicken pox should be given between the ages of 4 and 6, in addition to the one currently given to children older than one year, since the double vaccination has been proven very effective," said committee chair Prof. Shmuel Rishpon.

Pneumococcus can cause illnesses including meningitis and pneumonia, and complications can lead to deafness, blood infections, brain damage and paralysis.

Over the next several weeks, the committee is also scheduled to discuss and approve adding the following immunizations to the state-funded immunization schedule: pertussis (whooping cough); rotavirus, which leads to thousand of infants hospitalized every year with severe diarrhea; and, for adolescent girls, immunization against human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer.

"The committee's recommendations for the new immunization schedule will be submitted to the ministry's director general within three months, but the important test will be in the allocation of the necessary resources to preventive medicine," Ron Dagan,of Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, said.