Thirty people have died so far this season from influenza – an unfortunate figure that the Health Ministry said this week fits the “historical model” – while some 200,000 have come down with the disease. At least half are 18 and under – not surprising, the Ministry said, as 9 out of 10 children in Israel are not inoculated against the flu.
To fix that, the Ministry is proposing providing free flu shots for all Israeli students. Beginning next October, all students in first grade will be inoculated, with the program expanding annually to eventually include all elementary and junior-high age kids within five years. The Ministry reserves the option to expand the program to high school students as well.
Shots will be available at local health fund (Kupat Cholim) outlets, and will be provided in-school as well for students who do not have the chance to visit the doctor. Kindergarten students are currently not included in the program because most kindergartens operate independently of elementary schools and do not have access to a school nurse, but the Ministry is working on a solution for that as well. The program will cost about NIS 10 million, the Ministry said.
Currently, just 11 percent of students have had a flu shot, said the Ministry; when the program is underway in full force, it expects 90 percent of students to be inoculated. However, said Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, even inoculating a far smaller cohort will go a long way toward reducing the number of flu sufferers. “According to our numbers, much of the source for the spread of flu is among children,” his office said in a statement. “Besides slowing the spread of the disease, using the schools as a way to distribute flu shots will reduce the strain on hospitals and health fund offices, which tend to be more crowded in the winter.”
The shots will be implemented by default. Parents who do not want their children inoculated will have the right to refuse, and will have to supply a signed document to that effect. According to the Ministry, similar programs are in place in the U.K. and several U.S. states, and all have proven to be very effective.