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4th person dies after receiving flu shot

Oct 22, 2006 | THE JERUSALEM POST The Health Ministry has temporarily halted vaccination of the population against influenza after the deaths of four people  all heart patients from cardiac causes between one and five days after they received their shots.

Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, who briefed the press in an urgent meeting after the news was released on Sunday night, said the halt in vaccinations was only a safety measure, as so far, "no connection" had been found between the Pasteur Institute vaccine and the tragedy.

Over 140,000 Israelis all at high or very high risk of complications from the flu - have been vaccinated during the past few weeks. It has not been made available to the general population or people of lower risk because of the temporary world shortage of vaccine that is due to be resolved in early November. As a result of the infirm population that received the vaccine first, it was almost certainly a coincidence that the four people died.

One victim was a 67-year-old resident of Petah Tikva who was vaccinated at a Kupat Holim Meuhedet clinic in the city. The others were 52, 70 and 75 years old, and were all residents of Kiryat Gat who were vaccinated at the same Kupat Holim Leumit clinic in their city.

The ministry is very worried that the tragedies will discourage people at risk for complications of the flu especially pneumonia from getting vaccinated when the decision is reversed and adequate supplies of the vaccine become available. Avoidance of vaccination by high-risk individuals - the elderly, children aged six months to two years, and people of any age with chronic disease or weak immune systems could result in many deaths.

Ministry officials are considering the possibility of organizing a well-photographed event in which Ben-Yizri and other ministry personnel will receive flu shots after the vaccine is found not to have been involved, in order to persuade the public that it is safe.

Every year, over 330 million people around the world get flu shots supplied by the Pasteur Institute in France and the Chiron company in North America.

Ben-Yizri said that as soon as the ministry learned of the first three deaths, it sent epidemiologists and other public health experts from the Ashkelon district health office to investigate.

The three Kiryat Gat residents were buried without an autopsy.

The ministry learned only Sunday about the fourth death, in Petah Tikva, and officials hope to persuade the family to allow an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

"We always purchase vaccine from the same sources. We have contacted them and asked them to investigate," the minister said, adding that he hoped more information would be available on Monday so the decision could be reversed.

Dr. Avraham Eitan, deputy director-general for medical services of Leumit, said that all the three patients vaccinated in Kiryat Gat had known chronic diseases.

"Because of the time and place in common and the fact that they all received the shots in the same clinic, we suggested to the ministry that vaccinations be temporarily halted."

All three had received flu shots in previous years with no unusual symptoms.

The Health Ministry, aware that people who have been vaccinated in recent weeks may become panicked by the possibility that they could die from it, advised anyone in this situation to see his doctor. As before, anyone with acute symptoms of a heart attack should go to a hospital emergency room.

The ministry, in cooperation with the health funds, will answer questions from the public about flu vaccine. The open phone line, at 03-563-4715, will be open between noon and 2 p.m.

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