With the news of coronavirus vaccines possibly receiving a permit from the European Medicines Agency, many professions activated to apply for priority vaccinations from the Ministry of Social Affairs. The applicants will be added to a waiting list but it still unclear who will make the call regarding priority groups.
A panel of immunoprophylaxis experts, consisting of scientists, have created a list in accordance with international recommendations and standards that will establish the priority groups for the first set of vaccinations in Estonia.
The list consists of people with chronic illnesses, social workers, the elderly, care home residents and employees and finally, essential service providers, based off of the State of Emergency Act: health care workers; water, power, fuel, heat, road maintenance and communications providers; payment and cash flow organizers. In other words - those whose lives depend on the vaccines and those whose services fill primary societal needs.
This preliminary list was decided in the end of summer and calculations showed that some 300,000 people should receive the vaccine before anyone else.
The estimated sizes of risk groups are as follows: 30,000 health care workers, 25,000 care home residents and staff, 140,000 elderly people, 80,000 chronically ill people and 35,000 essential service providers. That all totals up to about 310,000 people, but the final numbers are still being specified.
It was reported earlier in the week that two pharmaceutical companies - Pfizer and Moderna - have presented their vaccines to the European Medicines Agency. The decisions are estimated to come in the end of December and in case of a positive decision, vaccines could reach Estonia in January.
As a result of these recent developments, many representative organizations of professions activated, all claiming they also need to be on the priority list.
Among those are teachers, dentists and also Tallinn city transport bus and tram drivers. The latter group consists of 1,300 people and they claim they have to transport all other essential workers, making drivers suspectible to the coronavirus. The average age of transport drivers is also high - 54.
Shale oil producer Viru Keemia Grupp also sent in an application, justifying it by saying the work is done in a high-risk region (Ida-Viru County) but also an inevitability of insufficient distancing. According to the company, this makes the 1,600 workers very vulnerable.
The Ministry of Social Affairs commented that dentists as health care workers are already on the priority list so they will not be added.
The rest are put on a waiting list however. It is still unclear however who decides on the additions to the list, if additions are even done - is it the government, the panel of immunoprophylaxis experts, scientific council or officials from the social ministry or Health Board.
Eva Lehtla, communications adviser at the social ministry, said: "Vaccination target groups and the order can change based on which vaccines with certain effects get the sales permit and actually reach Estonia. Therefore, the vaccination organization plan has to be flexible enough."
Risk groups might also have to line up
Everyone - even the already mapped out risk groups and essential service providers - will not get the vaccine during the first round any way. There will not be enough doses for the 300,000 people in the priority list. The amounts of dosages ordered from pharma companies are still being discussed. Producers are discussing vaccines with all EU member states together, with clarity perhaps coming in a week or two.
The vaccines awaiting the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency need two doses for immunity to develop. For the Pfizer vaccine, the second injection must take place 21 days after the initial, the period for other vaccines is somewhere in the 28-30 day range. The vaccine organization plan must take into consideration that those who will be vaccinated in the first batch, must also receive the second injection. This decreases the number of people receiving the first vaccines even further.
The social ministry has assessed that the 300,000 priority list people will get vaccinated during the next six months. The rest - even those who are on the waiting list - might have to wait longer. The queue is already packed for risk groups.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste