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Winter vaccination drive at pharmacies “a failure”

Health centres say vaccination coverage has decreased

Portugal’s national association of family health units (USF-AN) said on Friday that the seasonal vaccination process in community pharmacies has failed, pointing out that vaccination coverage is lower than in previous years.

“The strategy adopted by the executive board of the National Health Service (SNS) for seasonal vaccination (…) against influenza and Covid-19 in community pharmacies has not produced the expected effects, and has placed Portugal well below the vaccination coverage achieved in previous years, when this was ensured by health centres,” the USF-AN said in a statement.

Analysing the data made available by Portugal’s national health authority, the association noted that until November 20, 2023, flu vaccination coverage stood at 66.38 % in community pharmacies for people aged 80 and over, compared to the 75% recorded in 2022, when vaccination was carried out exclusively in health centres.

There were also fewer people in the 70-79 age group vaccinated against the flu, with 62.32% coverage in community pharmacies compared to 71% the previous year in health centres.

With regard to Covid-19 vaccination, USF-AN found that 55.59% of people aged 80 and over were vaccinated in community pharmacies, compared to 72% in health centres last year.

Vaccination coverage among people aged between 70 and 79 was 62.32% in community pharmacies, while in 2022 it was 73% in health centres.

“On November 20, 2023, before the start of the most critical phases of the flu, Portugal, for the first time in five years, had no safe vaccination rates for either the flu or Covid-19,” it pointed out.

USF-AN recalled, however, that the activation of health centres for support led to “greater vaccination” and “more appointments at pharmacies (where the vaccines were)”.

“However, the time taken to respond in a timely manner and at the same levels as in previous years was lost and the activity of the Health Centres (which could have ensured a successful vaccination in a timely and programmed manner, as in all previous years) was disrupted,” it said.

According to the association, “this data reinforces that the Portuguese trust vaccination in the context of health units” in Primary Health Care.

The association also opposed strategies that “do nothing for the health and disease prevention of the public and, consequently, seriously disrupt the functioning of SNS health services”.

“We reiterate our conviction that the entire National Vaccination Programme and consequently any seasonal vaccination campaign must be centred on Primary Health Care, and that we must not fall into the error of betting on disintegrated health care, in which the value of the global and proximity care provided by Family Health Teams is lost,” it added.

More than 2.2 million people were vaccinated against the flu from the start of the vaccination campaign until the end of the year, according to the latest national health authority report.

The flu vaccination campaign runs at the same time as Covid-19 and is aimed at the over-60s, the chronically ill, pregnant women, health professionals and those working in nursing homes.

Source: LUSA