Update on Flu Vaccine: Where can you get one in Cuenca?

Dec 12, 2019 | 24 comments

According to the Ministerio de Salud Publica (Ministry of Public Health) all of Ecuador’s 24 provinces are ready for the flu season, and from now until February 28, 2020, is offering the flu vaccine free of charge to seniors 65 and over, to children, pregnant women, chronically ill, postpartum, disabled, and direct care personnel. People who are incarcerated get the vaccine as well.

According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, in 2018 Ecuador spent $10 million to acquire 3.9 million doses of flu vaccine last year. The majority of flu cases last year were in in Quito and the surrounding province of Pichincha. Priority for vaccines is given to children under 5, pregnant women, people over 65 and those suffering from chronic illnesses, as well as health care personnel.

It’s not too late to get your flu vaccine. 

I visited the Central de Salud office on 12 de Abril next to the Military Hospital today. It is true — regardless of your age, the flu vaccine is available to all for free. Bring your identification.

According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, in 2018 Ecuador spent $10 million to acquire 3.9 million doses of the flu vaccine and last year they vaccinated more than a million people. The majority of flu cases last year were in Quito and the surrounding province of Pichincha. Priority for vaccines is given to children under five years old, pregnant women, people over 65 and those suffering from chronic illnesses, as well as health care personnel.

Vaccination campaign in Machalí. La Noticia

It’s not too late to get your flu shot.

Here in Cuenca, all of the Central de Salud offices have the vaccine, administered from a multi-dose vial. Yesterday, our friend Brian Buckner wrote a column about his experience just recently. He was riding his bike in the countryside near Cuenca and encountered nurses conducting outreach to offer flu vaccines to people living far from urban clinics. Brian was offered a flu vaccine — and he’s now vaccinated.

I reached out to my friends on social media and learned that some prefer to get the single-dose flu shot, which some private doctors offer. I was also told that there is a wholesaler in Cuenca called Pemalu, where, without a prescription, single-dose flu vaccines (and other vaccines such as for hepatitis A and B) can be purchased. You then take the vaccine in its cold-pack to your doctor or clinic to have it administered. There is a time limit to do this because all vaccines must be refrigerated and not exposed to Keep it cold and get it administered as soon as possible. Addresses of Health Clinics and Pemalu below.

100 years ago, influenza killed as many as 50 million people. Could it happen again today?

In this 1918 photograph, influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital at Camp Funston, a subdivision of Fort Riley in Kansas. The flu, which is believed to have originated in Kansas, killed from 20 to 50 million people worldwide. Associated Press

As reported in USA Today last year, on the anniversary of the epidemic that devastated the world, a hundred years ago up to 500 million people — about a third of the world’s population — became infected with the influenza virus, and as many as 50 million died, or one out of every 30 human beings on the planet. The virus killed more American soldiers than died fighting in World War I.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. says that up to 85 percent of annual flu deaths are in older adults, with the highest hospitalizations in seniors and young children age 0-4 years.

Right now, in the U.S., that states with the highest amount of activity are in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas.

Why are babies and seniors more at risk from the flu? As quoted in Healthline.com, Dr. Marietta Vazquez, a Yale Medicine pediatrician and infectious disease specialist says that children’s immune systems are not fully matured and have no previous immunity to the flu; seniors are likely to have weakened immunity just because of aging, but they are also more likely to have chronic diseases that increase the chances of a more serious influenza. Children are more likely to become severely dehydrated and more prone to complications including pneumonia, brain dysfunction, sinus and ear infections, and even death.

Risks are increased when there is:

Co-infection with another germ, usually bacteria such as strep
Aggravation of existing conditions such as heart disease and asthma
A so-called ‘cytokine storm’ marked by an overwhelming immune system response to infection.

Vaccine effectiveness can vary from year to year, and although there is not yet a “universal vaccine.” The American Society for Microbiology reports, “It is clear that while significant progress has been made to develop a broadly protective universal vaccine, there is still more work to be done to achieve a long-term solution to influenza. While influenza continues to strike year after year, promising work on broadly effective vaccines may ultimately break our never-ending cycle of annual influenza vaccinations.”

The vaccines recommended for the Northern Hemisphere are typically adjusted differently for the Southern Hemisphere. Going to be traveling in both hemispheres? There’s no harm in getting two flu shots, knowing that it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to offer full protection. Read more from the WHO here.

Although the flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective, the ASM reports that getting the yearly flu vaccine still offers some benefit by lessening the severity of symptoms among those who do get the flu.

Be part of the solution — protect yourself and others by getting the flu vaccine.

Be part of the solution: Prevent spreading the flu

The CDC says “Take 3” Actions to Fight the Flu

  1. Take time to get your flu vaccine.
  2. Take everyday preventative actions to stop the spread of germs, including staying home if you’re sick, washing your hands frequently, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

Last week my husband and I walked into the Ministerio de Salud on Avenida 12 de Abril near the Hospital Militar, walked upstairs, showed our cedulas, and got the flu vaccine. Today I checked again and was told that the flu vaccine is free to everyone, regardless of your age or nationality. Just show your identification when you go in. To find the Center closest to you, click here.

Speak with your doctor about the flu shot this year.

Pemalu Ltd. Is the wholesaler: located behind Super Stock on Avenida de Americas: Jose Vinueza S/N Riofrio, (+593) 7-402-4789.

Healthline: Here’s where flu activity is the highest right now.

Food, Nutrition, and Your Health columnist Susan Burke March moved to Cuenca after working for more than 25 years as a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in the United States. She currently serves as the Country Representative from Ecuador for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

Susan helps people attain better weight and health, and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions that can be improved with smart lifestyle modifications. Contact her at SusantheDietitian@gmail.com.

Susan Burke March

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