Over the last two weeks, the Albanian authorities have been issuing influenza vaccines to those considered “high-risk”.
The government claimed it would include a nationwide influenza vaccination strategy as a part of its fight against COVID-19. Influenza cases were very high and caused a big burden on Albanian hospitals last year and in 2017.
In June, the European Commission recommended that countries start their vaccination programmes earlier this year, due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, in Albania, the first vaccines were given much later than in many other states.
Minister of Health Ogerta Manastirliu said that the government increased the number of vaccines it would bring to Albania to 368,000. She claimed that “health staff, teachers, educator, chronically ill, those over 65. and children” would receive free vaccinations.
Faktoje reported using data from INSTAT, DIFKSH, the State Police, and various other authorities there are actually 932,758 individuals in the country that meet the criteria. They include 18, 415 health staff, 420,036 elderly, 147,907 children under four, around 300,000 chronically ill, and more than 34,000 teachers and educators. There are also 12,000 police included in the programme.
Even if some of these categories overlap, for example, an elderly person or educator with a chronic disease, it’s still apparent that there is a lack of vaccines.
Furthermore, Vaxigrip- the most highly regarded influenza vaccine is still not available on the market for other individuals to buy from pharmacies.
Locally, one flu vaccine is available, Influvac. Distributed by Albanian company Megapharma it is being sold in their chain of branded pharmacies- Orange Pharmacies.
Exit was contacted by a pharmacist who claimed her pharmacy had been told they could not buy the vaccine to sell instore because they were not part of the Megapharma network. This means that those wishing to take a vaccine who are not covered by the state can only get it from pharmacies operated by Megapharma, she said.
Exit visited 10 pharmacies in the centre of Tirana and asked the staff if they had been able to purchase Influvac. Three said they didn’t have an interest in purchasing it as they would wait for Vaxigrip, six said they were unable to purchase it but didn’t know why, and one said they were unable to purchase it because they were not owned by the manufacturer.
Exit contacted Megapharma for information on the vaccine and where it could be purchased but has not yet received a reply.
As for Vaxigrip, it’s made by international pharmaceutical company Sanofi. It has been available for at least two months yet has still not been imported to Albania.
Exit enquired with pharmacy staff as to when it would arrive and the majority said they hoped it would be here by the end of October but that they had no official communication on the matter. They did not know why it was delayed.
Sanofi has also been contacted for comment but Exit has not yet received a reply.
During the midst of a global pandemic and with influenza season in its second month, influenza vaccines are still not widely available in Albania. There are also questions as to whether the government has enough to vaccinate those that are considered high-risk and in need.
The World Health Organisation estimates that between 290,000 and 650,000 people die from influenza each year, including healthy children and adults. While the vaccine is not 100% effective at prevention, it significantly decreases the chance of hospitalisation, complications, or death.