Simultaneous vaccinations for Covid and this year’s influenza strains will start as of Wednesday in Nicosia and Limassol, while hours have been extended at vaccination points island wide due to greater than expected demand.
Personal doctors, however, have taken issue over a seeming technicality, involving the registration of patients’ flu vaccinations into their medical records, as well as the long window for priority groups to get vaccinated.
Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC on Tuesday, deputy director of Nursing Services, Evagoras Tambouris, said the option for simultaneous vaccinations for certain priority categories (60s and up, children aged 6 to 15, and certain chronic illness sufferers) will be available, following the booking of an appointment, from 8am until 3pm.
So far, by noon on Monday, a total of 250 people had made appointments, Tambouris said. However, it emerged that in the later hours none of the three phone lines in the Nicosia centres were being answered, according to disgruntled members of the public, while some in the first batch of callers were surprised to have been given appointments as far out as November.
Tambouris clarified that due to greater demand than anticipated, the programme days and hours needed to be extended, and the issue had since been resolved.
At the same time, he recommended that those interested in only receiving the flu shot visit their personal doctor.
Tambouris explained that for those receiving the simultaneous vaccination, the Covid shot would be automatically entered into their medical file by staff on location. However, for the flu shot, a slip would be issued and recipients are themselves responsible for informing their doctor of their flu vaccination status. The personal doctors are thus tasked with entering the flu vaccine information for their patients into the system.
Vice president of the personal doctors’ association, Mary Avramidou, however, speaking to the state broadcaster, took issue with the process, calling it a “senseless bureaucratic procedure”.
“We are utterly opposed to the ministry on this matter of allowing patients to relay [the vaccination] information to doctors, and we were never consulted during decision making,” Avramidou complained.
She further charged that the logistic turned patients into “messengers” and personal doctors into “secretaries of Okypy” (the state health organisation).
“We welcome the new move by the ministry for simultaneous vaccination, which is also recommended by the CDC,” she said, “but there is no reason the patients’ flu vaccination status cannot be directly entered into the record by staff at the centres. This will create a lot of problems.”
Avramidou went on to detail that one problem was the fact that the health insurance organisation (HIO) has tied doctors’ compensation to proving a 40 per cent vaccination coverage rate for patients over 65, as this has been has designated a quality indicator.
“How many patients will bother to come to their doctor to record their flu vaccination?” Avramidou asked. “This is not a likely picture for a Cypriot patient.”
Moreover, Avramidou pointed out, doctors envisioned other problems such as patients losing their slips and forgetting when and if they had been vaccinated.
“Doctors will end up penalised [financially] for encouraging patients to get vaccinated which is absurd!” Avramidou said speaking to Cyprus Mail.
Tambouris for his part stated that it was not possible to enter the flu vaccination into the database at the centre, due to data protection issues.
This was later rubbished by the doctor who asserted that the same data protection laws applied for both shots and hinted that the matter may be related to funding on the part of Okypy.
Cyprus Mail contacted the Ministry of Health for clarification but no comment was immediately available.
Meanwhile the personal doctors’ representative also brought up dissatisfaction over the fact that the priority window for vulnerable groups went on as late as February with vaccination only then being opened up to the general public.
“By that time it is too late and no one comes,” Avramidou said, which also results in personal doctors being left to bear the costs of surplus vaccinations.
“For this reason we recommend that the priority window be limited to October and November and opened up to all at the start of December so that there are no wasted doses,” she said.
As for the order of vaccinations and whether she had any recommendations on this, the doctor said it was a matter of personal decision.
“It doesn’t really make any difference. People can chose to have them simultaneously, which is recommended, but some may go with last year’s recommendation which was to leave a two week period between shots in order to notice any adverse effects, and allow the body time to mount an immune response before the next vaccine,” Avramidou said.
Vaccination centres in Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca, Paphos and Famagusta will be operating every Wednesday and Friday from 8am until 3pm.
Vaccinations in the Kyperounda centre also start on Wednesday, while the first day for operation in Polis Chrysochous is Tuesday.
Visitors are advised to book an appointment and have their ID ready to present at the centre.