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Q&A: Can I get the flu vaccine at a pharmacy in Spain?

Getting the flu vaccine to those who need it in Spain is considered more important than ever this year. Here’s everything you need to know, from prescriptions to prices and who can administer the flu vaccine in Spain.

Q&A: Can I get the flu vaccine at a pharmacy in Spain?
Photos: AFP

As Spain grapples with its second wave of Covid-19 and its 47-million-strong population hopes for a vaccine to be developed as soon as possible, health authorities are turning their attention to preventing a rise in flu infections this winter. 

“The mode of transmission and the symptoms of the novel coronavirus and the influenza virus are very similar,” Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said back in August when he announced this year’s flu vaccination campaign would be brought forward.

“Due to a possible coexistence and circulation of both viruses during the 2020-2021 season, new objectives have been set with the purpose of protecting the most vulnerable and also trying to prevent our health system from being overwhelmed.”

READ MORE: What to do if you suspect you have Covid-19 or need a test in Spain

According to Spain’s Influenza Surveillance System, during the 2019-2020 season a total of 619,000 flu cases were confirmed, causing 1,800 ICU admissions and 3,900 deaths.

These are not figures Spanish hospitals can afford to take on as the country’s total number of coronavirus infections has just hit one million, the highest in Europe.

So now that autumn is underway and temperatures are dropping, what should foreigners in Spain be keeping in mind when it comes to “la vacuna de la gripe” or “vacuna antigripal” (flu vaccine in Spanish).

Do you need to get it? How about foreigners who don’t officially live in Spain? Here we answer some pertinent questions relating to flu vaccinations in Spain in 2020.

Who should get the flu jab?

Spanish health authorities have listed four population groups they say should get the flu vaccine annually:

– Elderly people, especially those over 65 years of age and in particular if they live in nursing or other care homes.

– Anyone with pre-existing health conditions or whose medical history puts them in the high-risk group for complications from the flu.

– People who can transmit the flu to those who are at high risk of complications (family members or close contacts of the above)

– Health workers and essential workers

Although not included in any of the categories, it’s worth noting that pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to catching the flu.

So in any trimester of gestation that falls within Spain’s vaccination period (October to December), it’s recommended pregnant women receive immunisation against pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus (Tdpa).

Is it mandatory for these high-risk groups to get the flu vaccine?

Spanish health authorities haven’t made it mandatory but they highly recommend that these four population groups get the vaccine, especially during coronavirus times.

According to official health data, in the 2019-2020 season season flu vaccinations prevented 26 percent of hospitalisations, 40 percent of ICU admissions and 37 percent of deaths attributable to influenza in people 65 or older.

Can I get vaccinated without a prescription in Spain?

Technically if someone in Spain wants to be vaccinated for the flu, they need a doctor to prescribe the vaccine.

However, you can also buy the vaccine at some pharmacies in Spain without a prescription and go to your local health centre where a nurse or other qualified health professional can administer it.

It is likely however that if you don’t fall into the high-risk groups, hospital staff will ask for a prescription before administering the flu jab.

How much does the flu vaccine cost in Spain?

The vaccine is free for anyone who falls in the four high-risk groups mentioned above.

For everyone else the average price in pharmacies in Spain is around €10 to €15 per dose.

The current push by regional health authorities to stock up on flu vaccines has resulted in many pharmacies having a lack of supplies.

Do I need to be a resident in Spain to get the flu vaccine?

Not necessarily. If you find a pharmacy that sells you the vaccine without a prescription (“receta” in Spanish) you can go to a private health clinic and have a medical professional there administer it for a fee. If you have private health insurance, find out if your policy covers this. If not there will be a charge for the vaccine to be administered.

Registered foreign residents in Spain who have access to Spain’s public healthcare system through social security contributions will be able to get the flu vaccine at their local public health centre in the conventional way.

Can I get vaccinated at a pharmacy in Spain?

Only medical and nursing professionals are theoretically allowed to administer flu vaccines in Spain but in late September Madrid’s College of Pharmacists (COFM) published a statement in which they criticised this stance.

“Spain’s health system stands out among neighbouring countries with its decision to exclude its network of pharmacies from its vaccination policy, a programme that has not been able to achieve the population's immunisation objectives during the last decade,” the statement reads.

In European countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, Switzerland and the United Kingdom pharmacists are legally allowed to administer flu vaccinations.

According to COFM, “pharmacists in Madrid want to be prepared” and anticipate what’s to come as winter approaches. The group has decided to launch online training for pharmacists in the capital to teach them “procedures and techniques for vaccinating.”

“We want to support the vaccination policy in coordination with other professionals, as has been done in other European countries with excellent results”.

However, some medical professionals have rejected Spanish pharmacists’ request.

A manifesto signed by Spain’s main nursing groups stated that intending to use pharmacies as an extension of the healthcare system would result in a disguised privatisation of public health, with professionals not qualified to administer vaccines doing it for profit and therefore representing a risk to the population.

When can I get vaccinated?

Most Spanish regions launched their vaccination campaign in early October, several weeks before the usual start of their annual “campaña antigripal” (flu vaccination campaign).

However, supply problems have caused it to be delayed in some areas. There are reports that many pharmacies across Spain have already run out of vaccines too.

Start by contacting your local public health centre to find out how to make an appointment and if there are vaccines available or if you can be added to a waiting list.

Where on the body is the vaccine administered?

The flu vaccine is administered as a deep subcutaneous or intramuscular injection in the upper arm for adults and children over the age of one.

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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