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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Free flu vaccines. For whom? The Ministry of Health explains

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The vaccination service in the pharmacy will remain free, but only people over 75 will be able to reimburse the flu vaccine itself, informs the Ministry of Health. He adds that vaccines will no longer be bought by the Government Strategic Reserves Agency, but by the medics themselves. According to the pharmacists’ self-government, having to pay around PLN 50 for the vaccine will discourage Poles from getting vaccinated.

Until 2022, flu vaccinations were performed only by primary health care clinics (POZ), and the vaccine itself was bought by the patient either directly at the clinic or at the pharmacy, following a prescription issued by a doctor, and then brought to the clinic to be vaccinated. The reimbursement was due to seniors over 75 years of age, hospice patients and residents of social welfare homes (DPS). The others had to pay the full amount for the vaccine at the market price of about PLN 50, although the vaccination itself was paid for by the National Health Fund.

At the end of January 2022, pharmacists who had been included in the COVID-19 vaccination campaign since July 2021, were authorized to vaccinate also against influenza. They could use vaccines that they ordered from pharmacies before the 2021/22 flu season or ordered them from the Government Strategic Reserves Agency (RARS). For vaccination with preparations ordered in wholesalers, the National Health Fund (NFZ) paid them PLN 60.3 (PLN 43.09 for a vaccine from wholesalers, PLN 16.40 for vaccination), and those ordered in RARS – PLN 17.21.

Deputy Minister of Health on “environmental expectation”

At the end of March, in the midst of the flu season, Deputy Health Minister Maciej Miłkowski sent a letter to doctors and pharmacists about the end of the free flu vaccination campaign from April 1, 2022 (on that day, the general testing of people suspected of covid infection was also completed). After criticism in the media, representatives of the Ministry of Health assured that they would leave flu vaccinations in pharmacies.

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After the end of April, leaving free flu vaccinations in pharmacies was promised at a meeting with the President of the Supreme Pharmaceutical Council (NRA), Elżbieta Piotrowska-Rutkowska, Deputy Minister of Health, Piotr Bromber.

In turn, on May 11, Maciej Miłkowski, Deputy Minister of Health for Drug Policy, spoke about it in the Sejm: – From September 1, pharmacists will be able to vaccinate against covid and flu. We plan to extend this coverage to all adult related vaccinations by September. The expectation of the environment is that the elderly can also be vaccinated in the field of pneumococci, and this is what we are planning. The pharmacist, as before, would have the right to qualify as well as perform vaccinations. He will also continue to carry out orders, prescriptions, for flu vaccinations issued by doctors or authorized nurses – explained Deputy Minister Miłkowski.

During the meeting at the Supreme Medical Chamber, Deputy Minister Bromber assured that the ministry would prepare statutory changes. May has passed, and there is still no draft regulation on this matter on the website of the Government Legislation Center. It also did not reach the social side, i.e. doctors or pharmacists who are looking for it with increasing impatience.

“We should be ordering vaccines by now”

– There are only 12 weeks left to the beginning of the season in September and we should already place orders for vaccines, if we are to enter the next flu season prepared – says the vice-president of the Supreme Pharmaceutical Council, Marek Tomków. – We are not doing it because we still do not officially know whether we should order vaccines from wholesalers or – as it was possible from the end of January – we will get them from RARS – he explains.

The ministry’s answer to the tvn24.pl question brings the explanation: – Certainly, in the new vaccination season, the state will no longer buy vaccines alone. It was an extraordinarily emergency solution, informs Katarzyna Kubicka-Żach from the Communication Office of the Ministry of Health. He adds that – unlike in the previous season – the full refund of the vaccine itself will apply to the elderly, i.e. over 75 years of age. – However, we do not rule out that this group will be expanded, which we will keep informed about. We are returning to standard solutions in this matter, such as the purchase of flu vaccines by pharmacies and health care centers, explains Kubicka-Żach.

According to the ministry, the final solutions for the next vaccination season are currently being worked out and “everything indicates that the vaccination service will still remain free for patients, both in primary health care and pharmacies, which is to increase the vaccination potential in Poland”.

– If the full refund of the vaccine were to cover only seniors 75+, 12 groups of patients who had a guaranteed full reimbursement in accordance with the Regulation of the Minister of Health on the prevention of seasonal influenza in the 2021/22 season, i.e. patients in hospices, care and treatment facilities or wards, will lose them palliative medicine, people staying in nursing homes, soldiers or medics – notes Marek Tomków. He adds that restoring vaccine fees could reduce the number of flu vaccinations.

“Vaccines in the NHF budget are a trace cost”

Other representatives of the Supreme Pharmaceutical Council agree with him. NRA member Mariusz Politowicz writes in a column for “Magazyn Aptekarski”: “If Poland does not want to have unnecessary problems with influenza in the fall, and thus huge costs, it is necessary to change the vaccination rules. To what they were. Free vaccines and their administration – paid by the National Health Fund. Against the background of direct and indirect disease costs, vaccines in the National Health Fund budget are a marginal cost “.

Katarzyna Kubicka-Żach admits that the flu vaccination coverage in Poland increased to 6% in the last season. This is a jump of about 2 percentage points from the average for the last few years, when it fluctuated around 4%. – 6 percent that is compared to 4 percent. quite a significant growth and it would be a pity to waste it – believes Marek Tomków. – Meanwhile, the necessity to pay about PLN 50 for the preparation itself will certainly discourage most people from taking advantage of the vaccination, the more that the year before they had the vaccine for free. I’m afraid the statistics will drop significantly again, the pharmacist believes.

In the opinion of pharmacists, the ministry not only reduces the degree of vaccination against influenza in this way, but also wastes the potential of the pharmacists themselves, who are ready to spare doctors in carrying out vaccinations.

As we read on the government website patient.gov.pl, anyone can get flu, but flu is particularly severe for people over 65 and children up to five years of age, people with overweight and obesity, people with chronic diseases: heart, lungs, immunity (e.g. HIV infection), diabetes or congestive heart failure. The flu passes spontaneously after seven days, but it can cause serious complications, e.g. otitis or myocarditis, so it is worth protecting yourself against infection, and if you get sick, rest a lot and give up both professional and physical activity.

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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