The start of winter is less than three weeks away but many doctors in the private health sector are unable to get their hands on influenza vaccine, a situation that increases the risk that the flu will spread widely in the coming months while the coronavirus continues to run rampant across much of the country.
The quadrivalent vaccine, which is designed to protect against four different flu viruses including two influenza A and two influenza B, is not yet available in most private hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, according to a report by the newspaper Milenio.
The public health sector began inoculating people against influenza in early October and will end its vaccination campaign on December 31.
But concern is growing in the private sector because vaccines have still not been distributed whereas at this time in the past they had.
Vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur México manufactured in Mexico 35 million doses of a trivalent influenza vaccine, which protects against two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus, but only imported 300,000 quadrivalent vaccines from the United States – the number it usually imports – despite higher demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The former, distributed by the state-owned company Birmex, are used in the public health sector while the latter are used in the private sector. The application of vaccines manufactured for the public sector is prohibited in the private sector.
Sanofi Pasteur medical director Alejandrina Malacara told Milenio that distribution of the quadrivalent vaccine began on November 15, two weeks later than normal. But almost three weeks later many private sector doctors who normally administer the vaccine still have not received it.
One company that distributes the vaccine to the private sector after buying it from Sanofi Pasteur – Bio Tec Vacunas – said on November 18 that it won’t have availability until January.
A private practice doctor told Milenio that he didn’t expect to have access to the quadrivalent vaccine until the end of this month at the earliest.
“They tell us that there are vaccines but they’re importing them in small batches and that by government order they have to be distributed to private hospitals and clinics in the first instance. … According to the importation and distribution program, they’ll be supplying private doctors’ offices at the end of December and start of January,” he said.
The doctor said he had been offered vaccines of doubtful origin but rejected them, explaining that he would never place his patients at risk or violate his own ethical values.
He advised people to go to a public hospital to get a flu shot, “even if it’s the trivalent,” in order to be at least partially protected against the influenza threat.
A private sector geriatrician told Milenio that he has been unable to get vaccines from private sector distributors.
He said that by this time of the year he normally would have vaccinated patients against influenza but Sanofi Pasteur distribution companies, “which usually have the best price,” have not yet received their allotments.
“We haven’t been able to find it. They don’t even answer [my calls] anymore because they got sick of me looking for them,” he said. “In my practice I administer [the vaccine] to the elderly in their homes … but that’s been impossible this year.”
Two mothers who spoke to Milenio said that they were unable to get the influenza vaccine for themselves and their young children at the private clinics they attend.
Another doctor blamed the federal government for the lack of influenza vaccines in the private sector.
“The [lack of] the influenza vaccine is another link in the chain of inefficiency in health matters of the so-called fourth transformation,” said Rafael Pérez Huacuja, referring to the government by its self-anointed nickname.
He claimed that the government’s “lack of awareness, inefficient administration and lack of planning” caused the vaccine shortage problem.
“The threat that diseases that were controlled will reappear [to cause] great harm to the population is regrettably real,” Pérez said.
He noted that the government has also struggled to ensure access to cancer medications for children and “other basic supplies for the operation of the health system.”
“… The fact is that obtaining an influenza vaccine is currently a very difficult challenge when until two years ago [when the federal government took office] it was accessible for the majority of the population,” Pérez said.
“It was promised that that the quadrivalent vaccine would arrive for private practices in the middle of October but only 200,000 doses were given exclusively to shifty distributors who sold all [their vaccines] before they had them in their hands. … With the Covid-19 pandemic … it’s possible that this winter we’ll face two devastating diseases that we won’t be protected against.”
But Malacara, the Sanofi Pasteur director, said that January – when the quadrivalent vaccine is expected to be more widely available in the private sector – will not be too late to get immunized against the flu.
“Reviewing the epidemiological distribution of influenza through the different seasons … we see that more than 70% of cases occur in the first quarter of the year – January, February and March – so we still have time and that’s good [news] for the Mexican public.”
Source: Milenio (sp)