Free flu vaccines to be offered to all Portugal’s over-60s

Registered health service users can receive flu and Covid vaccines ‘simultaneously’

Flu vaccination in Portugal will be free for people aged 60 and over and for priority groups from 2023/24, the government announced on Sunday.

According to Lusa, the government “expects to spend around €20 to €25 million on vaccines”

Secretary of state for health promotion, Margarida Tavares, signed the order this week authorising free vaccination for all people aged 60 and over, as well as for other priority groups identified by the health authority (DGS).

The vaccination campaign begins in the second half of September, and eligible users (whether they are over 60 or in other age groups) can be vaccinated simultaneously against Covid-19 and seasonal flu.

We want to protect people as much as possible next winter, increasing the coverage of this free vaccine by almost 30%,” Margarida Tavares explained to Lusa.

According to a statement issued by the ministry of health on Sunday, this measure “will ensure greater equity in access (to vaccines), allowing even more people to be protected“.

Margarida Tavares said that the final accounts for this new measure cannot yet be made, not least because the purchases have not yet been finalised, but she estimates the final cost at between €20 and €25 million for the vaccines, not counting logistics costs.

“It’s a very significant investment by all of us (…) But it’s a very valuable investment. But it’s a decision we’re very happy to make because of the advantages it brings. That’s why we’re calling for great mobilisation,” said the secretary of state, pointing out that this measure will also reduce the circulation of viruses and protect the health service.

“Flu is an acute viral disease of the respiratory tract, which can be particularly serious in the elderly or those with chronic illnesses,” the ministry warns.

The ministry of health said that, last winter, Portugal once again exceeded the 75% vaccination coverage target against seasonal flu proposed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Lusa’s text misses a few points however. It refers only to free vaccines against flu. It does not explain whether the vaccines against Covid-19 will also be free.

It also does not explain if the government is purchasing updated Covid vaccines, or planning to use existing stocks which have not been used and are still valid. (There have been millions of doses unused, as previous reports have explained).

A call by the Resident to SNS24 (the permanent health service telephone line elicited the response that “we do not have this information to hand; you must check with your local health centre”.

The local health centre phone line rang and rang until a voice told us to ‘please try later’ – and the pharmacy we contacted warned that ‘nothing the government announces is ever very reliable.

“It’s as if someone has an idea, and then they put out a press release”, said our source.

“The national association of pharmacies has long advocated that pharmacies should be able to administer flu/ Covid vaccines as this way working people are not bound by the very restricted hours of health centres. But nothing is ever achieved. Announcements are made without pharmacies being formally told how this would be organised, or indeed how it would be funded.

“These are simply populist announcements”, said our source. “They are practically meaningless”.

The Resident will try and get a ‘hard and fast’ answer from a health centre as to what EXACTLY is free this year, and when it will be available.

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