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Corona autumn prompts surge in demand for seasonal flu jab

Local health officials are reporting bottlenecks in reservation systems for flu shot appointments.

Sairaanhoitaja pistää influenssarokotteen ikääntyneen miehen olkavarteen.
Private healthcare provider Mehiläinen said that it is experiencing a temporary shortage of vaccine doses. Image: Jarkko Riikonen / Yle

As the coronavirus epidemic rears its head once more this autumn, more people are opting to get vaccinated against seasonal influenza. Private healthcare provider Mehiläinen said that it had vaccinated twice as many people as in recent years.

The demand for the flu jab has prompted the healthcare group to declare a temporary shortage of doses. The company said that people who already have appointments for the shot will get one, but otherwise the vaccines will be rationed.

"At the moment we will not be taking new appointments for flu vaccines. We will take care of prior appointments and investigate the availability of vaccine to [see if we can] get more. Pharmaceutical companies’ stocks are quite depleted and more vaccines than before have been acquired in Europe," Mehiläinen Central Finland unit director Mila Korhonen said.

"People have clearly shown an interest in the vaccine," she added.

Vaccine coverage on the rise

The South-Savo social and health care municipal federation Essote and the Savonlinna Central Hospital District Sosteri have both said that people in Finland are opting to get the shot this year.

“This autumn has been exceptional. People who have not previously had the vaccine have now said they want it. It seems that vaccination coverage will rise considerably this autumn compared to last year,” Essote infectious diseases head physician Hans Gärdström noted.

So far this year, the eastern Savo health district has administered 5,200 vaccines, that’s over 50 percent more than by the same time last year.

"Customers have been very active. We will definitely have a higher vaccination coverage rate that last year," Sosteri head nurse Mia Luukkainen said.

In Jyväskylä, residents were said to have been very active reserving appointments for flu shots at local health centres. The queues have been so long that the next available openings are in January.

However while it is no longer possible to book an appointment online, residents can still try to get appointments by phoning health centres.

"The outlook is that we can exceed last year’s numbers," Kyllö health centre head nurse Mirva Molkari speculated.

Molkari said that there has been no shortage of vaccine doses in the public sector in Jyväskylä.

"Of course there is a danger that the vaccines will run out but at the moment that possibility is not on the horizon. So we can reassure people and residents that everyone will get the shot," she added.

A "bit of a surprise"

All of the healthcare workers interviewed speculated that the coronavirus epidemic may have inspired people to get the seasonal flu vaccine.

"The media have highlighted that if people contract the flu and coronavirus at the same time it could increase the risk of a more difficult situation. I believe that experts’ and officials’ statements on the importance of [getting] the flu vaccine during this time, has had an impact," Mehiläinen’s Korhonen said.

While public health officials said that they expected enthusiasm for the shot, the surge of people queueing for the jab was unexpected.

"It was a bit of a surprise that there was such a great desire to get the vaccine. I did think that vaccine coverage would rise, but now it seems it will increase quite a lot this autumn," Essote’s Hans Gärdström said.

Meanwhile head nurse Mokkari said that vaccine coverage has continued to improve year-on-year in Jyväskylä.

"It may well be possible that Covid-19 has in some way inspired enthusiasm to get the vaccine, but in the Jyväskylä area people have been active about getting the vaccine in recent years anyway," she noted.

Meanwhile the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL has said that municipalities and hospital districts will not be able to organise mass inoculation events due to the epidemic.

The agency has recommended that vaccinations be administered by appointment or at least in such a way that safety distancing can be maintained. Public health officials in Jyväskylä and the South-Savo district have set up an appointment system for people belonging to risk groups.

The city of Jyväskylä said that when it opened its reservation system on 26 October, both the online system and reservation phone lines immediately became congested. The town of Pieksämäki on South Savo also reported bottlenecks in its online reservation system.

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