Winter Woes: Flu Scare Creates Vaccine Shortage

A spike in demand is sparked by the death of a 15-year-old last week.

The country's health maintenance organizations are running out of their supplies of flu vaccine. This follows a recent spike in demand sparked by the death last week of 15-year-old Idan Levy of Caesarea.

To date, a total of 1.1 million people have been vaccinated against the flu this season.

flu - Ilan Assayag - January 11 2011
Ilan Assayag

The Kupat Holim Maccabi health maintenance organization confirmed the shortage.

"The best time to be vaccinated is between October and December, and during those months we nearly used up our entire inventory," a source at Maccabi said, noting that there are only 7,500 doses of flu vaccine left in their inventory. "The vaccinations are going to be used up in the coming days all around the country, so we are turning elsewhere for more. Depending on when they will be available, we will make decisions about purchasing."

Sources at Kupat Holim Clalit health maintenance organization reported that 710,000 of their members were vaccinated this year, 40,000 more than last year. As a result of the shortage, Clalit decided that vaccinations would be provided only at its major clinics.

In the Haifa region, Clalit sources said, more than 120,000 residents had already been vaccinated, in the Sharon and Samaria, more than 100,000, and in the north, more than 85,000.

A senior official at the Health Ministry said yesterday that "at this time there does not appear to be a shortage of flu vaccines, but we must be prepared for the possibility that there may be." The Health Ministry said yesterday that "the shortage of vaccines in the HMO inventories is temporary, and the stocks will be renewed when additional doses are purchased."

At the start of winter, health officials had expressed concerns about a drop in the number of people being vaccinated, which they attributed to the swine flu scare the year before. The number of people who were vaccinated against the swine flu last year was low, about 700,000, but during the scare, about 5 million doses of swine flu vaccine had been purchased.

The vaccinations offered this year target swine flu (H1N1 ), and two other active forms of influenza, both believed to have originated in Australia - A from Perth and B from Brisbane.

Since October, vaccinations have been available to the members of all four HMOs but are mostly earmarked for high risk groups, such as elderly individuals over age 65, toddlers, pregnant women, the chronically ill and medical staff who are regularly exposed to sick people.