Experts Call for Changing Swine Flu Vaccine in Israel to Quell Fears

According to the Health Ministry, 204 people have been hospitalized with serious cases of swine flu.

Following the death of another pregnant woman from H1N1 influenza (swine flu) Monday, the national task force on epidemiology recommended that all Israelis be offered the option of receiving the vaccine without an adjuvant, an additive that bolsters the immune system's response.

Monday's fatality, a 40-year-old woman from the south of the country who suffered from chronic asthma, was the 77th Israeli to die of swine flu and the third pregnant woman. She was hospitalized with the disease a month ago, while in her 32nd week of pregnancy.

As her condition worsened, doctors at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva decided to perform a Caesarean section in order to save the baby. The baby was born healthy and was discharged from the hospital.

According to the Health Ministry, 204 people have thus far been hospitalized with serious cases of swine flu, including 15 pregnant women, while 9,789 people have been definitely diagnosed with the disease, including 395 pregnant women.

The ministry bought enough vaccine to immunize all seven million Israelis, but only 225,364 have actually received the vaccine. Even among healthcare workers, only 47,272 - fewer than a third - have been immunized, though the vaccination campaign for this group began in early November. For the general public, the campaign began only eight days ago.

Moreover, only 362 pregnant women have thus far been vaccinated, even though they are considered a high-risk population - and they, unlike most other Israelis, are entitled to receive a version of the vaccine that does not contain adjuvants.

The task force concluded that fear of adjuvants may be deterring some people from getting vaccinated. While vaccines with adjuvants have been used for years in Europe and Canada, they have yet to be approved for use in the United States, leading some Israelis to fear they are less safe.

The recommendation still needs Health Ministry approval, but that is expected to be granted quickly. Thus distribution of large quantities of adjuvant-free vaccine to clinics nationwide is expected to begin within the next few days.

Prof. Dan Engelhard, who chairs the task force, said vaccine with an adjuvant is recommended for most people because it provides more protection against the disease.

The ministry said only 69 Israelis have reported side effects from the vaccine, and most of them have been very mild.