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Delayed start to seasonal flu shot programme in Finland

The World Health Organisation needed an additional month to assess which strains of influenza it should prepare for.

Lapsi saa nenäsumuterokotteen.
Administering the flu vaccine via a nasal spray. Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle

The National Institute of Health and Welfare THL says it has begun distributing seasonal flu vaccines to municipalities to provide protection during this year’s flu season.

However the public health watchdog noted that the annual flu vaccination schedule has been delayed by the late arrival of the vaccine – meaning that municipalities will also provide free shots later than in previous years.

"Vaccines have arrived slightly later than usual and they will come in more lots than in previous seasons," explained THL specialist Niina Ikonen.

According to Ikonen, members of the public will still be able to protect themselves against influenza before the worst of the season takes hold.

"The epidemic usually begins only after the New Year, at the beginning of January. Generally the worst weeks are around February to march. At the moment there is no indication that the season will begin any earlier than usual," she added.

The THL is advising local governments to begin public immunisation at the end of November, when they would have sufficient stocks of the vaccine on hand. However it is up to municipalities to decide when to provide free vaccines.

Time needed to assess flu strains

According to THL, the World Health Organisation, WHO, wanted an additional month to assess which strains of influenza it should prepare for. Because the WHO’s final recommendation for the composition of the vaccine came one month late, it had a knock-on effect on production, which in turn affected deliveries of the drug.

Free vaccines provided in Finland’s national immunisation programme are generally available to groups to whom an influenza infection would pose a major risk. In additional, individuals such as social and health care workers also get the shot for free.

Some Finnish residents pay for inoculation themselves. Pharmacist Krista Merras of Yliopiston Apteekki in Helsinki said that private customers have been asking about the availability of the flu jab. She pointed out that individuals need a doctor’s prescription to purchase a dose.

"At the moment the vaccine is not yet on sale but we will have it at all of our outlets next week. It’s about a couple weeks behind schedule compared to previous years," Merras added.

Nasal spray more popular for infants

THL said it has ordered 1.7 million shots to be administered by way of a needle for this winter’s flu season. In addition, it has also ordered 116,000 doses to be administered via a nasal spray, an alternative that is suitable for children between the ages of two and six.

This year the THL ordered 40,000 more nasal spray doses than last year -- enough for 40 percent of two to six-year-olds in Finland.

"We have seen that the nasal spray is a more desirable option for children than an injection. Two-thirds of parents who decide to inoculate their children ask for the nasal spray," Ikonen observed.

The vaccine does not always prevent people from contracting the flu, but it does mean that persons who fall ill experience milder symptoms. More information about the flu vaccine is available on the THL website (in Finnish).

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