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Private clinics short of basic vaccines, sending patients to public sector

A global shortage of cheap basic vaccines has begun to affect Finland. But while public health care facilities still have adequate supplies on hand, private care providers have run out of items such as tetanus vaccines.

Henkilö vetää rokotetta ruiskuun.
Image: Yle

Private health care providers in Finland are beginning to feel the pinch of a scarcity of basic vaccines as manufacturers struggle to keep up with demand. The situation means that patients visiting private health care providers for shots such as tetanus may well be directed to the public sector for the vaccine.

According to medical chief Hanna Nohynek of the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL, other vaccines such as polio and combination vaccines that protect infants from a number of diseases are also in short supply.

One reason for the shortage is tighter quality requirements that have weakened profitability for manufacturers that normally produce cheap vaccines. Structural changes in the international pharmaceutical industry and vaccines’ earnings expectations have also influenced which products are brought to market.

Nohynek speculated that markets – and consumers – will likely have to brace for higher vaccine prices.

"It could be that the price that we are now prepared to pay for vaccines as part of national inoculation programmes is too low in relation to their production costs and growing quality requirements," Nohynek said.

Adequate supplies at public health centres – for now

The public health sector currently has adequate vaccine supplies, because the government has been able secure sufficient quantities with manufacturers as part of national vaccination programmes.

However the THL’s Nohynek said that the situation is still serious, since individual countries will now have to determine whether or not they can secure adequate supplies as part of their national programmes.

She noted that some countries have already had to modify their national vaccination schemes due to poorer availability of stocks. Finland has also had to look for a new supplier for infants’ BCG tuberculosis shots, since it is no longer able to secure it from its traditional Danish supplier.

"Providers have been directed to use each dose with care and not to create any waste because we can’t be sure that we’ll be able to get it as easily in the future," Nohynek commented.

In cases where manufacturers struggle to supply vaccines, the private health care sector usually takes the hit first. The THL is a major buyer and makes long-term purchase agreements and also sets ups separate supply arrangements when needed.

Vaccine shortage new for Finland

The THL medical chief said that Finland first ran into supply problems with the BCG vaccine about one year ago. However some European countries have had supply disruptions for many years, mainly with respect to tetanus, diphtheria and combination vaccines.

Further afield the development is by no means new. The UN’s children fund UNICEF ran into problems as far back as in 2000, when global pharma manufacturers decided to focus on the combination vaccines favoured in the West and lacked the capacity to produce the medicines suited to the needs of poorer countries.

However Nohynek noted that manufacturers have since increased capacity in these countries to meet local needs.

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