Government makes swine flu vaccine available to broader public

Originally, one million doses of the swine flu vaccine was to have been available only to those at the greatest health risk, including health workers and those suffering from serious and long-term illnesses. Now, that has changed: on Monday the government agreed that the vaccine will be available to almost all. The only question is, whether the new broad access to the swine flu shot will boost what until now has been surprisingly low interest.

Almost from the get-go patients’ interest in the swine flu vaccine has been lower - far lower - than anyone expected and the question now that the government has made the vaccine available to all is whether that will change. On Monday, according to sources, even government ministers offered the shot by the health minister refused it: not much of an example for the rest of the population. Still, flu experts have largely recommended that those who can now should strongly consider getting the vaccine, given that the swine flu has become dominant among flu strains. Despite the drop in incidence, experts say it will continue to spread and they also warn that swine flu will again dominate the next flu season.

There are a few changes: under the new government decision, vaccines will no longer be offered at general practitioners’ but directly at vaccination centres. Dr Roman Prymula, the head of the Czech Immunology Society, addressed the situation:

“Most people are of course used to going to their GP, someone closely familiar with their health situation. In this case, though, people will go to vaccination centres, no different from when you get a vaccine to travel somewhere abroad. Just like in those situations, here you’ll have to tell the doctor about your current state of health; if there is no possibility of risk then you’ll receive the vaccine.”

Dr Roman Prymula,  photo: David Němec,  Czech Radio
Getting the shot will be completely free – without even the regular 30 crown health charge which will be covered - the government made clear on Monday - from the state budget. Will interest go up? Quite possibly, not least among those with children; as it stands children from the age of three are eligible for the vaccine, although they, unlike adults, will need written confirmation from their doctors. Women who are pregnant (among those at high risk) will be eligible from the fourth month into their pregnancy but will also need approval from their gynaecologist. One more thing: of the original 1 million vaccines, the government has opted in the end not to order the final 30 percent, meaning that a total of some 700,000 doses will have been made available to Czechs.