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

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, 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

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

  1. All have right to free medicine. Why is this provided only to selected groups? The goverment is bankrupt and not able to provide any guarantees by the constitution.

      1. That’s a great question – what is your name? I just edited the column – that source was from last year – reporting on the beginning of the campaign where they reported that they’d acquired four million vaccines – at the time of the article, it read that one million had already been vaccinated.

      1. Health

        Article 32. Health is a right guaranteed by the State and whose fulfillment is linked to the exercise of other rights, among which the right to water, food, education, sports, work, social security, healthy environments and others that support the good way of living.

        The State shall guarantee this right by means of economic, social, cultural, educational, and environmental policies; and the permanent, timely and non-exclusive access to programs, actions and services promoting and providing integral healthcare, sexual health, and reproductive health. The provision of healthcare services shall be governed by the principles of equity, universality, solidarity, interculturalism, quality, efficiency, effectiveness, prevention, and bioethics, with a gender and generational approach.

        1. Yes, you have accurately quoted Article 32 of the 2008 Constitution, however, I see no reference to free medicine. The article seems aspirational but doesn’t seem to lay out any specifics how these aspirations shall be achieved. Do you know of any case where medications are actually dispensed for free here? If you were to walk into one of the sites cited in this article and didn’t meet the criteria stated, but demanded free vaccines, would they give them to you even if you brought a copy of the Constitution with you?

          1. OK, so “Health is a right guaranteed by the State.”
            Might as well add food, water, electricity, education, job, clothes, smart phone and hookups, any corrective surgery desired (for the sake of ‘equality’ in the job market… oh wait, that’s already guaranteed), vehicle/transportation, internet access… did I forget anything?
            Hmmm… looking at the constitutional edict, I also see that sexual health and reproductive health are guaranteed. So I suppose we should add the right to a free husband or wife, as the case may be.
            Why bother singing Christmas songs about Santa Claus? Far better and more lucrative to sing, “Here comes Estatal, Here comes Estatal, right down Estatal Lane!”

          2. Not sure for adult. In ecuador all vaccine is free for children. Also all services and medication is free in government hospitals. They have very limited stock. But you will be provided with free lab, cat scans if you ever admitted.

  2. I don’t have a bike. But after reading Brian Buckner’s article, I borrowed a horse. Unfortunately, after riding around San Joaquin all day I still couldn’t find those three pretty nurses to give me a shot.

  3. I would suggest reading the vaccine insert first…..I think if you did, you would not even eat those ingredients…..let alone shoot them up.

    1. Liz, no one is “shooting them up.” Vaccines save lives. The British Medical Association writes, “The phenomenon of ‘vaccine hesitancy’ is defined by WHO as the ‘delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines’ despite the availability of such services. Those who stoke such sentiments are commonly described as ‘anti-vaxxers’.

      As such, WHO has listed vaccine hesitancy alongside antimicrobial resistance and climate change as one of the top 10 global health threats of 2019, warning that such beliefs have contributed to a 30 per cent increase in measles cases globally.

      ‘Vaccine hesitancy is one of the top 10 global health threats’

      The Wellcome Trust’s Global Health Monitor for 2018 meanwhile found that while 79 per cent of people globally strongly or somewhat agreed that vaccines are safe, 7 per cent strongly or somewhat disagreed, with 11 per cent indifferent and 3 per cent unsure.

      The trust also identified that scepticism in vaccination has been creeping upwards in recent years in developed and developing countries. In France, for example, one in three people disagree that vaccines are safe.

      Not coincidentally perhaps, France has recently seen a 462 per cent increase in the number of measles cases, rising from 518 in 2017 to 2,913 last year.

      1. Attack the messenger, not the argument. Figures. Everyone that doesn’t agree with you is a conspiracy theorist, a term created by the CIA to discredit anyone who doesn’t toe the conventional line.

        1. Absolutely not. There are facts and there are opinions. I’ve cited enough studies and historical references about the millions of people who died from the flu, and the safety and efficacy of the flu vaccine. This is not an opinion article. From Healthline The flu vaccine is never a 100 percent guarantee you won’t get sick, but even so, it can drastically lower your chances of falling ill. And even if you do get the flu, you’ll likely experience a milder symptoms if you’ve been vaccinated.

          “If the vaccine is not a perfect match for the strains of influenza in circulation this winter, the vaccine may still prevent severe complications, mitigate the extent of illness, and prevent hospitalizations and deaths. Vaccines carry little risk and the potential benefits far outweigh the risks,” Weiss said.

          It takes about 2 weeksTrusted Source for the flu shot to start working. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting vaccinated by late October, before flu season really kicks in, so your body can create enough antibodies to protect itself against the flu.

          On top of getting vaccinated, be sure to wash your hands frequently and keep your health in check by eating well, staying hydrated, exercising, and adhering to your prescribed medications, says Cutler.

          As flu season picks up, stay about 6 feet away from sick people, especially those who are coughing and sneezing, and try to sanitize public touch screens before using them as they’re known hotspots for bacteria.

          1. I always thought that the reason there is a flu season in the northern hemisphere is because folks stay indoors, out of the cold, and therefore contaminate each other more readily than during other times of the year.
            Why would there be a flu season here in Ecuador? Maybe it’s just another example of “we want to do things like they do up north, but we don’t really know why.”

            1. That is an excellent comment. I went to Popular Science, for a credible answer: “A warm climate promotes sustained transmission as opposed to seasonal outbreaks, so we might get flu year-round.”
              – William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University

              The question is addressed directly: ” The flu has a paradoxical relationship with the weather. In the United States, the flu thrives in the winter, when the air is cold and crisp, and then ebbs in the spring, when the disease is stymied by hotter temperatures. However, in tropical countries, where it is usually warm, humid and rainy, people get sick with the flu all year round. Scientists are studying why this happens, but they have no answers as of yet.

              “It’s there all the time. We just don’t know why,” says William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University. It’s a real puzzle, since flu viruses spread more easily in cold, dry air than in heat, but they are a perennial problem in the tropics.

              This contradiction could have major implications for the future of the flu in the United States. While climate change promises shorter, warmer winters, which could yield milder flu seasons, scientists say that the way the flu operates in the tropics suggests that in the coming decades, warmer, wetter weather could make the flu a year-round problem for Americans.”

    1. Mine, too. A flu shot can only treat 4 of 125 different strains of flu. A 3% chance to help, with mercury and aluminum thrown into your bloodstream for good measure? You can keep it.

      1. Yes indeed. It’s amazing how poor is the effectiveness of the flu vax, yet loads of people dutifully line up for it. Bizarre. But predictable. Even these people say it’s only 29% effective:
        So, 71% of people who get the shot may still get the flu. Horrible efficacy stats, totally unethical marketing push to get flu vaxxed. Clearly it’s not about health care, but rather some other agenda.
        Ahem, people. Quit poisoning yourself, stressing out and thus overworking and compromising your immune system. Effectiveness of this common sense approach? Probably 95+%. Influenza will not be an issue for you.

  4. For all you vaccine skeptics, do you also not condone chicken pox, measles, typhoid, yellow fever…and of course , the worst killer of them all malaria vaccinations? Why ?

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