Israeli health officials brace for combined wave of flu and COVID ahead of winter

Health Ministry’s Sharon Alroy-Preis urges vaccines against both viruses, noting that shots for influenza and coronavirus can be administered at the same time

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

An Israeli man receives a second booster of the COVID-19 vaccine in Modi'in, on January 6, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
An Israeli man receives a second booster of the COVID-19 vaccine in Modi'in, on January 6, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Health officials in Israel are sounding the alarm and predicting a potentially dangerous winter with a combined wave of COVID and flu cases.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, said Thursday that best possible weapon remains vaccinations against both viruses.

“There are predictions that in Israel there will be a wave of COVID in October and November,” she told Army Radio. “The combination of COVID and flu could be problematic. We are preparing for this in terms of vaccines, which can be received together.”

She said that flu vaccines for this year are slated to arrive in Israel at some point in September.

An unnamed health official told the Kan public broadcaster on Thursday that Israel is exploring purchasing COVID vaccines that are tailored specifically to new variants of the virus. The official also said that the administration of COVID and flu shots simultaneously may only be for those who are over 60 or high-risk.

While Israel’s COVID vaccine campaign has slowed dramatically, hundreds of people a day are still getting the shots. On Tuesday, 186 Israelis got a fourth dose of the vaccine, 83 got a third dose, 84 a second dose and 81 a first dose. In late July that figure was closer to 750 vaccines doses a day.

Health Ministry director of public health Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis speaks at a Knesset Health Committee hearing in Jerusalem on February 7, 2022. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

Overall, more than 72% of Israelis have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, 66% have received two doses, 48% three doses and just 9% have gotten a fourth shot of the vaccine.

Alroy-Preis said that health officials are continuously monitoring the situation around the globe, particularly in parts of the world that are already experiencing winter.

“One of the tools that we have to prepare for winter is to look at the other half of the globe, and what we see there is not reassuring,” she said, noting a serious wave of flu and COVID cases during Australia’s winter with a high rate of hospitalization.

At the moment, Alroy-Preis said Israel’s COVID rates are remaining steadily low.

“We’ve been saying for a while already that COVID is here and we have to live with it, with the ups and downs in infection, and adjusting the regulations to the situation,” she said.

As of Thursday morning, there were 18,335 confirmed active COVID cases in Israel, with 583 of them hospitalized and 199 of those listed as serious cases. In the past week, 18 people with COVID have died, bringing the death toll since the start of the pandemic to 11,524.

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