Estonia plans to vaccinate 100,000 people against COVID-19 during the first quarter of next year, Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) said at a press conference on Tuesday. However, it is not yet known how many doses the country will receive in its first shipment.
Kiik said that while the government has made comprehensive preparations for the vaccination, more effort is needed. The goal is to start the vaccination in January and to vaccinate some 100,000 people during the first quarter of the year.
"This depends on the manufacturing capability of various European manufacturers," the Center Party minister said, adding that no vaccine manufacturer has received an EU marketing authorization yet.
Estonia is participating in all COVID-19 vaccine pre-purchase agreements of the EU.
The main purpose of the vaccination is, first, to protect the at-risk groups and to reduce the burden on the healthcare system, the minister added.
Exact time when vaccination will start not known yet
Deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Social Affairs for health Maris Jesse said at the press conference it is not yet possible to say when vaccination against COVID-19 will start in Estonia.
She said that Estonia's capability to accept vaccine is bigger than the first deliveries will be.
"We know that the first delivery under the agreement will take place within three days of obtaining the EU marketing authorization, but unfortunately it isn't conclusively clear yet how big that first delivery will be," Jesse told reporters.
She said Estonia would like the first batch to be as big as possible in order for the country to be able to start vaccinating healthcare workers, on whom the functioning of the healthcare system depends, as well as the people staying in care institutions.
The people in the at-risk group will be sent invitations to vaccination by e-mail and contacted also by family health centers. That will happen over the course of the month of January, Jesse said.
Hopes are for it to be possible to start the vaccination of the general population during the second quarter of next year.
Kiik would also not speculate on how big the amount of the vaccine to arrive in Estonia in the first stage will be. He said that the healthcare workers who directly come into contact with coronavirus patients definitely will be vaccinated first.
Kiik said that logistical preparations will be completed before the end of December, definitely before the arrival of the vaccine in Estonia.
"And definitely our capability to accept the vaccine is bigger than the first deliveries will be," Kiik said, adding that the refrigerating equipment necessary for storing the vaccine has been delivered to Estonia already.
When it comes to the distribution of the vaccine within Estonia, the arrangement in principle has been agreed on, the minister added, declining to be specific.
State Agency of Medicines: Duration of protection provided by vaccine unknown
Triin Suvi, head of the department of biologicals at the Estonian State Agency of Medicines, said that with the COVID-19 vaccine being brand new, the duration of protection provided by it is not yet known.
Thew first vaccines to be delivered to Estonia are those developed by Pfizer and Moderna which, like most pharmaceuticals, entail some side effects.
"The safety profile of Pfizer's [vaccine] is normal. Most frequently reported side effects ascertained in the course of clinical studies were pain at the injection site, fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhea," Suvi said.
The State Agency of Medicines department head said that all side effects disappeared within a few days and pains could be relieved with pain medication.
Primary efficacy analysis demonstrates the vaccine to be 95 percent effective against COVID-19 seven days after the second shot of two doses administered 21 days apart.
The duration of protection provided by the Pfizer vaccine is not yet known due to the pharmaceutical being brand new. The efficiency of the vaccine is unclear with certain illnesses, such as in patients with compromised immunity. The vaccine has not been tested on children, thus it must not be administered to them.
Editor: Helen Wright