By Dan Even
As the country ramps up another flu vaccination campaign, a number of researchers are looking into why Israelis traditionally shy away from flu shots.
Flu shot season is nigh, and health officials are concerned whether sufficient people will respond to the vaccination campaign that is underway in the four health maintenance organizations.
The HMOs bought 1.1 million shots of flu vaccine this year for the general public. For the first time, the Health Ministry has updated its recommendations and is calling on the entire public aged 6 months and above to get vaccinated.
In the past, the call to be vaccinated concentrated on adults aged 65 and above, children of 6 months to 5 years, pregnant women and those who have recently given birth.
Even though the composition of the vaccine is identical to that given last year, the ministry and the HMOs are advising everyone – including those who got the shot last year – to be vaccinated, free of charge to members of the HMOs.
Ministry officials are worried, though, that the public will ignore the calls, leading to a possible epidemic that would cause additional burdens on the hospitals, as well as money wasted on buying the vaccines.
Refusal as protest
The Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy Research at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer has embarked on a study of patterns of behavior with regard to flu vaccinations, in an attempt to help change the Israeli public’s opposition to shots.
The comparative study, conducted by Dr. Baruch Velan, revealed that the public’s response was weak in many of the countries where there was social protest this past summer, including Israel.
In Israel, 11.6 percent of the population took the shots against swine flu, the study revealed. In Spain, where there was also social unrest, 10 percent were vaccinated, while in Greece, a mere 3 percent got the shots. In Sweden, by comparison, 60 percent of the population were vaccinated.
Can the refusal of many Israelis to be vaccinated be regarded as a sign of social protest? Velan, who recently presented the findings at a gathering marking the 10th anniversary of the institute, believes there may be a connection.
“The weak response to the vaccination [campaign] was a turning point in the attitude of the Israeli public to the Health Ministry’s recommendations,” he said. “The ministry took tremendous pains to provide the vaccine but the public upset the apple cart and made these efforts pointless because they did not come to get the shots. It seemed almost like a revolution.”