What can you do to help fight Switzerland’s flu epidemic?

The number of flu cases is on the rise, Swiss health authorities warn. What should you do (and not do) if you become ill?

What can you do to help fight Switzerland's flu epidemic?
Photo: Flu in Switzerland has now reached epidemic levels. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reported that after a slow start, the number of people suffering from the flu has risen this week. Ninety-five cases were reported per 100,000 inhabitants, exceeding the seasonal epidemic threshold of 69 cases.

As of January 14th, the numbers are highest among 15 to 29 year olds, with the cantons of Geneva, Neuchâtel, Vaud and Valais the worst affected. However, the incidence of flu is increasing in nearly all regions and age groups, FOPH reported.

For most people flu is not a serious illness, but its symptoms — fever, body aches, chills, sore throat, and cough — can be very uncomfortable.

And in some cases it can lead to serious conditions, such as pneumonia, with several hundred people dying from complications every year in Switzerland. Most of them are patients with a weakened immunity system, such as the elderly and people suffering chronic diseases.

FOPH recommends getting the flu vaccine each year in the autumn to minimise the risk of catching the illness, which normally hits from December until the end of February. 

If you do come down with the flu, the Swiss health authorities recommend three common-sense measures to keep the virus from spreading: 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
  • Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not out in the open where other people are, because the virus spreads most often through the air. Or, use paper tissues and toss them out immediately.
  • Stay home until at least a day after your symptoms abate. This way you will not only minimise the likelihood of post-flu complications, but also avoid contaminating others.

READ MORE: Swiss doctors spend only one-third of their time with patients  



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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.