Israel’s El Al airlines has vaccinated more than 250 flight crew members against measles in recent says after the Health Ministry told all local airlines to inoculate all their staff as the highly contagious disease continues to spread.
The Health Ministry order came after a flight attendant and a 10-year-old boy were suspected to have suffered irreversible brain damage from the disease; both are in comas in Israeli hospitals.
“Due to the continued spread of measles and the exposure of air crews, we recommend that all your workers be vaccinated,” the Health Ministry said in its directive. “Make sure that your workers receive two inoculations and place a special emphasis on the air crews that come into contact with travelers.”
El Al, which had already begun vaccinating its workers after the flight attendant was hospitalized in a coma after contracting the disease on a flight, has now set up a special clinic at Ben Gurion Airport and more than 250 crew members have been vaccinated, Channel 12 reported Sunday.
The condition of the El Al worker who was hospitalized earlier this month with the measles has deteriorated, Hebrew media reported on Thursday. She is in a coma, has been moved to an isolated intensive care unit, and has suffered suspected brain damage.
A young boy has also been hospitalized at Schneider Medical Center in Petah Tikva with suspected brain damage and is attached to a ventilator, according to television reports.
The El Al flight attendant, 43, was admitted to a hospital two weeks ago after contracting the disease on a flight from New York. She is suffering from meningoencephalitis — a complication of the measles virus that is similar to having both meningitis and encephalitis, respectively infections or inflammations of the lining of the brain and the brain itself.
The woman was working on board El AL flight 002 from John F. Kennedy Airport to Tel Aviv on March 26 and the Health Ministry advised all travelers on that flight to immediately seek medical care if they develop symptoms of the measles.
Blood tests revealed that the El AL flight attendant had been vaccinated with only one shot against measles instead of the two inoculations recommended for her age group.
“The damage is very serious,” Dr. Avi Lin, deputy director of Meir Hospital, told the Ynet news site. “We continue to evaluate her situation every day and hope for the best.”
Last week, an internal Health Ministry document revealed that two million Israelis are partially or not vaccinated, according to Channel 13. That figure likely includes those born between 1957 and 1977 who require two booster shots to be fully inoculated against the disease, which the ministry has not mandated.
Measles is making a resurgence in Israel due primarily to parents not inoculating their children. Up to 45,000 children, mostly from ultra-Orthodox families, are not vaccinated at all, Channel 12 news reported Thursday. Those children are aged 1-6 years old and the Health Ministry will reach out to their families, according to the report.
On Wednesday, the Health Ministry said it would keep child healthcare centers open throughout the Passover holiday next week, when children are on vacation, in a coordinated drive to step up vaccination rates.
“If everybody had been vaccinated as required we would not be in this situation,” Prof. Sigal Sedetzki, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, told Channel 12.
Sedetzki said the ultra-Orthodox in particular had “several pockets” within the community that do not vaccinate. He urged parents to take their children to clinics around the country that are being kept open over Passover in order to receive the vaccinations.
The Health Ministry is also urging Israelis to make sure that they are vaccinated before flying overseas.
Israel has seen an outbreak of measles in the past year, recording 3,600 cases between March 2018 and February 2019, according to the ministry.
Infections have mostly centered on the country’s ultra-Orthodox community.
In November, an 18-month-old toddler in Jerusalem died of the disease, the first recorded death from measles in Israel in the past 15 years. A month later, an 82-year-old woman became the second fatality.
In New York, too, officials are struggling to contain a swelling number of measles cases centered in ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods while battling lawsuits over their efforts to require vaccinations. Health officials have confirmed 329 cases of measles in New York City and 184 cases in nearby Rockland County since the outbreak began in October.
The measles cases in Rockland and in Brooklyn have been traced to unvaccinated members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community who traveled to Israel. Orthodox Jewish leaders say a small faction of vaccine opponents in the community has allowed the disease to spread.
AP contributed to this report.