Poland Seeks More Flu Vaccines Amid Shortage During Pandemic

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- The Polish government is trying to secure more flu vaccines from international producers amid a national shortage fueled by higher demand during the coronavirus pandemic, Poland's health minister said Tuesday.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Poland generally has very low flu vaccinations rates and is seeing a vaccine shortage now because orders for this fall and winter were based on last year's demand. He told Radio Zet that his ministry met Monday with key vaccine suppliers to explore the possibility of getting more vaccine shipments.

During the last flu season, only about 1.5 million people, or 4% of Poland's population of 38 million people, were vaccinated for the flu, he said. Some 100,000 vaccines went used.

The low flu vaccination rates in Poland are the result of wide distrust in pharmaceutical companies and in vaccinations.

During the swine flu outbreak 10 years ago, Poland was the only country worldwide to reject the vaccines over safety fears and distrust in drug companies. When that outbreak proved not as deadly as some initially feared, many Poles felt their government was vindicated.

But fears of COVID-19 have created an unprecedented demand for flu vaccines. The Gazeta Wyborcza daily reported Tuesday that pharmacies across Poland are unable to meet demand and have created waiting lists for future deliveries.

Tomasz Leleno, spokesman for the Polish Pharmaceutical Chamber, said he expects the situation to improve with new deliveries in late September and early October.

Health experts are stressing that the seasonal flu vaccine is especially important this year because reducing the number of flu cases helps preserve medical resources for treating COVID-19 patients.

“Both are respiratory illnesses and it's likely that they would put a strain on the same parts of the health care system at the same time,” the health minister of Poland's western neighbor, Germany, said Tuesday.

Jens Spahn said Germany has ordered 26 million doses of vaccine for this flu season, a significant increase compared to the 18-19 million doses the country normally buys.

“If we manage, together, to get the flu vaccination rate so high that all 26 million doses are actually used then I'd be a very happy health minister,” he said.