Increased Demand for Flu Vaccines Causing Shortages in Portugal

Portugal has already vaccinated 1.4 million people against the seasonal flu, and expects to acquire a total of 2.5 million doses — but will it be enough?

Getting a flu shot in Lisbon is usually a fairly simple process. But like many other things, it’s become much more complicated this year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

In previous years, there were a few different ways to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu in Portugal. Those with access to the public health system could go to their local health center, where the shot was administered free of charge for certain risk groups (including the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems). 

Everyone else would need to get a prescription to buy the vaccine at a pharmacy, where the cost would be partially covered. This option was — and technically still is — also available for those with private health insurance.

However, in 2020, it’s not quite that simple. Portugal’s annual flu vaccination campaign began on September 28, according to the Serviço Nacional de Saúde. The first 335,000 doses were prioritized for public health professionals, pregnant women, and senior citizens residing in nursing homes.

Since then, the country has acquired hundreds of thousands of additional doses, expecting to reach a total of 2.5 million — a number that would be sufficient in any other year. But the coronavirus pandemic has inspired a strong effort to vaccinate health professionals and high-risk populations, leading to shortages for the general public, as reported by Público.

“The fact is that this year we saw a demand from people who normally don’t get vaccinated, starting with health professionals who in previous years didn’t want to get vaccinated, and this year have done so to a massive extent,” said Minister of Health Marta Temido on the Política com Palavra podcast aired live on November 18.

Temido urged the public to only get vaccinated against the seasonal flu if they have sufficient cause to do so — implying that those who do not belong to high-risk groups should forego the vaccine due to the nationwide shortage.

As of November 18, 1.4 million seasonal flu vaccines had been administered, with 440,000 doses still in stock and 200,000 more expected to arrive by the end of the month, according to Público. Temido confirmed that no additional vaccines will be made available after that.

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