Israelis rushed to get their flu vaccinations on Friday, following reports in the media that one person had died of swine flu and at least 11 others had been diagnosed with the illness.
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The Health Ministry issued a statement on Friday urging the public to vaccinate against flu. The vaccinations are provided free of charge by Israel's four health maintenance organizations – Clalit, Leumit, Maccabi and Meuhedet.
HMO clinics reported a dramatic upturn in the numbers of people arriving for their flu vaccines on Friday. Leumit reported giving 1,600 vaccinations in the past two days, eight times the regular number. Maccabi reported a three-fold increase, to 1,000 vaccinations, and Clalit said 5,000 people had been vaccinated.
A Haaretz investigation found that vaccine stockpiles at the MHOs are low. Despite that, clinics insist that they have sufficient supplies to meet the surge in demand.
If the demand continues into next week, the HMO's are likely to give priority to the most vulnerable population groups – the elderly, babies, the chronically ill and pregnant women.
Clalit has about 100,000 vaccines remaining, out of the one million it had at the start of the flu season. Maccabi has about 50,000 out of an original 425,000, Meuhedet has 50,000 out of 220,000 and Leumit has 20,000 out of an original 115,000.
In total, HMO vaccine supplies currently stand at some 220,000.
Esther Aryeh, a woman in her 50s, died of swine flu in Petah Tikva’s Beilinson Hospital on Wednesday. Another 11 cases of the virus have been diagnosed throughout the country in recent days.
Aryeh, who also suffered from other illnesses, was transferred to hospital in serious condition a month ago and connected to a machine that artificially oxygenated her blood, but her condition later deteriorated.
Seven of the other swine flu patients are in serious condition, with some of them on respiration. Swine flu was discovered in a four-year-old girl on Thursday. She is hospitalized in stable condition in Assaf Harofeh Hospital.