Amid renewed COVID fears, HMOs have early launch of annual flu vaccine campaign

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

A woman gets her flu vaccine shot on September 5, 2023. (Clalit)
A woman gets her flu vaccine shot on September 5, 2023. (Clalit)

Israel’s health maintenance organizations are offering the new annual flu vaccine beginning today. With the vaccine available earlier this year than usual, the medical community is encouraging people to get the shot now and not wait until the fall and winter virus season starts.

Doses are being rolled out to all clinics and nursing stations around the county and appointments for the shot can be made online, by phone app, or by calling one’s HMO.

The healthcare community is concerned about Israel being hit by both flu and COVID. The spread of the new EG.5 (Eris) and BA.2.86 (Pirola) COVID variants in other countries has doctors worried about the possibility of a combined “Flurona” scenario that would fill up Israel’s clinics and hospitals.

“We are expecting a tough winter in Israel in terms of illness… We urge everyone to get vaccinated for their own health and to help reduce the load on the health system,” says  Dr. Ronnie Farber, head of public health at Meuhedet Health Services.

Everyone is encouraged to get the shot, especially individuals 65 and older and those with chronic illness or immune deficiency. The HMOs also recommend immunization for babies and children, pregnant and postpartum women, as well as women considering getting pregnant. Those who work in the healthcare system, senior residences, and nursing facilities should get the shot.

All the HMOs are promising ample supply of the vaccine. Clalit, Israel’s largest HMO insuring more than half of the population, has ordered 1,125,000 doses of the vaccine comprised of four inactivated flu strains to be given by injection, including a stronger formulation for people 65 and older.

Clalit will also have 25,000 doses of FluMist, the live attenuated influenza vaccine in the form of a nasal spray that can be given to people ages 2-49.

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