Israel's Health Ministry is calling on all residents to be vaccinated against the flu this year, a possible heavy season for the disease because of the expected colder and rainier winter.
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The ministry is also basing its forecasts on increased flu outbreaks in the Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia - levels that have not been seen since 2009. The ministry recommends that everyone over 6 months old be vaccinated, especially people with chronic illnesses, people over 65, pregnant women and children under 5.
The vaccinations are done by Israel’s health maintenance organizations to combat the three main strains expected this winter. This year’s strains around the world are the same as last year’s.
It takes 10 days to two weeks for the vaccine to reach full effect, but since the vaccine is the same as last year’s, those vaccinated last year will only need a day or so to reach full effect. People who have suffered serious side effects in the past should not be vaccinated, said the ministry, which recommends vaccinations in October or November.
Some 20 percent to 30 percent of Israeli adults come down with the flu every year, and around 5 percent to 10 percent of children. Last winter, more than 1.4 million Israelis were vaccinated – around 18 percent of the population. For those over 65, the rate was 62 percent, according to the Israel Center for Disease Control.
Two types of vaccines are available in Israel. The most common is an injection based on dead flu viruses. The second contains a weakened form of a live virus, which is given as a nasal pray and is usually intended for children. After the vaccination, the body starts producing antibodies.
Research shows that the vaccination prevents about 60 percent of infections and can even prevent 90 percent, depending on how well the vaccine in any given year targets the virus.
The makeup of the vaccine is decided each year by the World Health Organization. The process starts in February with the monitoring of the flu strains; scientists sample viruses from all over the world to identify any genetic changes.
They then try to forecast how the virus will develop over the coming months and develop the vaccines accordingly. The final decision comes in April, and drug companies start producing the vaccines.