THE Health Ministry has officially launched this year’s flu vaccine campaign across Spain, but who is eligible? And how do you get a jab?
Firstly it’s important to know that this year, health experts fear the flu season could be particularly deadly because it is the first time that Covid and flu could circulate fully at the same time.
“Now more than ever, it’s important to get the flu vaccine,” said Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias speaking particularly to those in high risk groups.
Research shows those infected with both viruses are more than twice as likely to die as someone with Covid alone.
Pedro Gullon, epidemiologist professor at the University of Alcalá de Henares warned that last year’s lockdown and restrictions on socializing meant there will be less natural immunity as this flu season approaches.
“Those measures in place to protect against Covid also served to protect against the flu,” he explained. “But with restrictions removed that could mean there’s more likelihood of higher virus transmissibility”.
Virology experts have also warned that gauging which strains might be prevalent in order to develop the vaccines was more difficult this year because cases had been so low last year.
Although the official start of the flu vaccine campaign was set by the Health Ministry for Monday, October 25, as with everything health related in Spain, it differs from region to region because healthcare is devolved to the autonomous governments.
So health authorities in Andalucia, the Basque Country and Galicia took the initiative to start jabbing against the flu early amid fears that this year would be particularly bad as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
While in Valencia, flu jabs will begin from October 27 and will be administered at the same time as booster Covid doses to those who are eligible.
Health authorities in the Balearic Islands however, have delayed the start of the flu vaccine until early November. And those in Murcia won’t be offered the jab until November 2.
Who can get the flu vaccine in Spain?
According to main guidelines determined by Spain’s central Health Ministry, the flu vaccine is recommended for four distinct groups:
- People aged over-65, especially those in care homes
- People aged under-65 with pre-existing conditions that are considered at risk from the flu – this includes those with diabetes, obesity and cancer. This group also includes babies between the age of 6 months and two years who were born prematurely, and pregnant women.
- Those who spend time regularly with people in these high-risk groups, particularly their carers or family members who live in the same home.
- Essential workers such as health personnel, police, firemen and others who work in frontline care.
How to book a flu vaccine in Spain?
Those eligible for a flu vaccine who are registered in the public health system can make an appointment with their local health centre in the usual way – either online or by phone.
For those not entitled to state health care, flu vaccines can be organised through private health providers (unlike the Covid vaccine which can only be arranged through Spain’s public health system).
Flu vaccines can even be bought over the counter at selected pharmacies – although you may have to arrange for a health care professional to administer it if the pharmacy doesn’t offer that service.
Flu vaccine AND Covid vaccine
The start of the flu jab campaign coincides with Spain approving a third dose of the Covid vaccine for those over 70 years old or considered in high risk groups or those who only had the one dose Jansen vaccine.
Health authorities insist it poses no risk to have both the Covid vaccine booster and the flu jab administered at the same time, although they will be given one in each arm.
However, experts advise against having either the flu or Covid vaccine if you are already feeling unwell. For instance if you think you may have flu then it is not advisable to have a third dose of Covid vaccine and vice versa.
If you already have a jab scheduled and then feel unwell you should postpone it and wait until you are fully recovered.
What to do if you catch the flu
The first question is how to know whether you have the flu or covid? Experts say it is not always easy to differentiate between the symptoms.
“I wish it were easy,” reports Gullon, the epidemiologist from Alcala de Henares. “There are some symptoms that are very specific to Covid such as the loss of smell or taste but they aren’t always present in everyone who contracts Covid. Other symptoms such as cough, fever, aches and pains, can be present in both illnesses.”
The only thing you can do is rule out Covid with a test but if suffering either illness it is advisable to self-isolate to prevent the risk of passing it on.