Two different kinds of flu vaccines are available this year in Finland. The one provided by public health care centres protects people from three different virus types – two A viruses and one B virus, while the version available in private clinics protects from four, as another B strain vaccine has been added.
Hanna Nohynek, chief physician and team leader of vaccine programme development at the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), says the increased protective potential of the private vaccination will only be determined once it becomes established which influenza viruses hit Finland this winter.
"There's a lot of talk in the field that the private health care providers are providing the better vaccine. In part, it is true," she says.
The reason the public sector's influenza vaccine is not as extensive is because the procurement decision to purchase the vaccine was made before the newer more extensive one was cleared for sale in Finland.
Different distribution technique
This winter season, vaccines ordered with state money were distributed for the first time on a "population-based" principle. Large consumers of the vaccine like the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital districts received the first shipments, followed by the Kuopio and Oulu university hospitals. After this, the vaccines were distributed according to the luck of the draw.
"This time we tried to get the vaccines as soon as possible to as many people as possible," says THL's Nohynek.
This year more vaccines that ever before were commissioned, for a total number of 1.7 million doses. In previous years, there might have been up to 200,000 doses that were never used.
"Every year it seems as if we will run out at some point, but then there are always some doses that aren't administered," says Nohynek.
In 2016, Finland did actually run out in November, but then a new batch of vaccines was quickly ordered.
Flu season is on the way
Flu shots are being distributed again in health care centres around the country, although THL says an influenza virus epidemic has yet to reach Finland.
Everyone over 65 or under 3 years of age, pregnant or suffering from a long-term illness is entitled to a free flu vaccine to help protect against contagion. Others can get a doctor's prescription to purchase the vaccine from their local pharmacy, or visit a private or occupational clinic.
Normally the flu season begins shortly after the turn of the year, and peaks sometime between January and February in Finland.