From: Alice Taylor
No News on When Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Will Be Available in Albania

The seasonal influenza vaccine is not yet available in Albania and there has been no announcement as to when the widespread campaign promised by Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu, will start.

At the beginning of August, the Institute of Public Health announced they were starting preparations for vaccinating those demographics that are most at risk from the virus. The vaccine, which will be free of charge would be given first to medical staff, teachers, and those suffering from chronic illnesses.

They said that influenza vaccinations would be a part of the government’s COVID-19 management strategy.

Last year, the IPH received 80,000 doses of the vaccine which were made available to health staff, children between 2-5, pregnant women, those with chronic diseases, and people over 65. The vaccine was also available to purchase from pharmacies for around 2000 lek.

Despite this, there was still a high number of infections with the state hospital and pediatric hospital being at almost capacity during the winter months.

On June 16, the European Commission called on member states to launch their seasonal flu campaign, something they said would be integral to managing the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

Yet in Albania, nothing seems to have materialised so far. Exit spoke to several doctors in both private and public practice who confirmed they had no indication of when the vaccine would be available to citizens or medical staff. One said they thought it would be ready by the end of September but added they had not received any official information on it.

Both the Ministry of Health and the IPH did not answer requests for information on how many doses would be made available and when they would start being distributed.

Observations conducted at health centres in Tirana found that people were inquiring about their availability but that staff were unable to provide any information.

Influenza kills between 290,000 and 650,000 people globally every year, including infants and children, the elderly and otherwise healthy individuals. It can lead to pneumonia and worsen chronic conditions such as asthma, heart failure, and diabetes.

The vaccine, while not 100% effective, significantly lessens the chance of hospitalisation, serious side effects, or death if influenza is contracted.

An epidemic of influenza combined with the current COVID-19 pandemic would have a devastating impact on the Albanian healthcare system.