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Despite the intensity of the Health Ministry and health maintenance organizations' public relations campaign to encourage the public to be immunized against swine flu, that campaign appears to have been ineffective, at least judging from the relatively low turnout at the Clalit HMO clinic in central Tel Aviv yesterday, the first day of the campaign.

"The elderly have already been immunized. The young, as always, are indifferent," said Menachem Kalmanowitch, a 68-year old retiree.

"In the end they will remember to do it only at the last minute, and who knows, it might even be too late," Kalmanowitch added. Sarah Hazani, a 66-year-old pensioner, agreed.

She said she had been told by a neighbor that morning that the outbreak of a full-fledged H1N1 epidemic was being forecast for February. "And what will happen then? All these who are ridiculing [the flu shots] will come running here like mad. But there will be no immunizations left."

Hazani had already been immunized, but obedient to a nurse's suggestion, she remained for 20 minutes in the waiting room to ensure that she had no unforeseen reaction to the flu serum.

Kalmanowitch, who was still waiting for his shot, held a piece of paper with a number on it, lower than mine, but was vigilant not to be overtaken by another elderly person who had arrived and claimed to "only want to ask a question."

And it was not only the general public that remained indifferent to the first day of the immunization campaign. Kalmanowitch was good enough to point out that the number of nurses on shift were no more than on a regular day.

He complained about having to wait for what he claimed was more than 20 minutes. Hazani, perhaps under the influence of her injection, seemed far less perturbed. She watched TV and waited to see she had no allergic reaction.

After Kalmanowitch exited the nurse's office, it was my turn. The nurse provided me with detailed information about the immunization and possible side-effects. After she ensured that I had read and signed the form, she gave me a shot of Focetria in my left shoulder. The entire process lasted less than a minute.

I spent my 20 minutes of waiting with Kalmanowitch and another elderly person who joined us.

"Why is it taking so long? And why aren't there more nurses?" he complained.

"Wait patiently," Kalmanowitch said. "It goes by quickly."