Almost 10,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Estonia early on Saturday morning and vaccinations will start on Sunday (December 27). The first shipment will allow 4,875 people to be vaccinated.
The first vaccinations will take place in Tallinn, Tartu and Ida-Viru County and will then be rolled out across the country. The first doses are intended for medical professionals in hospitals and family medicine centers and ambulance staff.
Head of the Health Board (Terviseamet) Üllar Lanno was onsite at the Health Board when the first 9,750 doses were delivered on Saturday in a temperature-controlled van. He told "Vikerhommik" that approximately one-fifth of Estonia's medical staff can be vaccinated with the first batch.
Board member of Family Physicians Association of Estonia (Eesti Perearstide Selts) Karmen Joller said family doctors are ready to start vaccinating doctors from next week.
"Once doctors have been vaccinated, vaccination will be provided to patients at risk and then to the general population. Family doctors and nurses know their patients and can provide the appropriate and necessary advice," she said.
Additional shipments of the vaccine are expected to arrive weekly from the beginning of January 2021.
Director General of the State Agency of Medicines (Ravimiamet) Kristin Raudsepp said in a statement the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine trials involved more than 44,000 people, of which 20,519 people over the age of 16 received two doses each.
"In the studies, the most common side effects of the vaccination were pain at the injection site, muscle aches, fever and feeling slightly worse for a couple of days," Raudsepp said. "All of these side effects were mild to moderate in severity. If necessary, they can be relieved with paracetamol, ibuprofen or a cold compress."
The Ministry of Social Affairs said mild allergic reactions were reported in the vaccine trials but there were no serious reactions. In addition, four out of the 20,519 people in the vaccine group, or 0.02 percent of those vaccinated, temporarily developed Bell's palsy.
Another coronavirus vaccine, developed by Moderna, is expected to be approved by the European Medicines Agency on January 6 and 234,467 doses are intended for Estonia which will allow 117,000 people to be vaccinated.
Minister of Social Affairs: First round of medic vaccinations to be completed in January
Speaking about preparations for the vaccination against coronavirus at a press conference on Saturday, Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) said that the government's plans are for the first round of vaccinations of medical workers to be completed by the end of January.
The first batch of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, 9,750 doses, which is enough for the vaccination of 4,875 people, arrived in Estonia on Saturday.
"We have finally reached the day - which many have waited for since the spring - when we can start the provision of vaccinations to residents, first to healthcare workers, to the risk groups, which will offer us a possibility to exit this difficult crisis gradually, step by step," Kiik said.
"Of course the first deliveries are not that big and it is not possible for us to start with vaccinations on a scale broad enough to be able to immediately deem this crisis as having ended. In other words, we must stick to all precautions, all valid rules now," he said.
"The agreement with Pfizer/BioNTech enables Estonia to offer the possibility of vaccination to over 4,000 people every week. Every one of them will thereby offer the possibility to stop the spread of the disease, to protect themselves," Kiik said.
All subsequent agreements with other vaccine manufacturers will offer the possibility to increase that number of people, according to the minister.
"The most important thing is to protect the field of healthcare, of course also the residents and workers of care homes - the risk groups that are the most in contact with COVID-19 patients, under the biggest infection risk, and whose being at work every day, functioning, has been a priority in overcoming this crisis from the start," Kiik said, adding that the first vaccinations will take place at five hospitals and two family health centers.
"Arithmetics shows that with this timetable of deliveries, we will be able to provide the first dose of vaccine to most healthcare workers in Estonia by the end of January under all circumstances. And then a second, repeat vaccination must be done after three weeks," Kiik said.
The minister emphasized that the vaccination consists of two doses, which have to be treated as a whole, and risks must be prevented which are impossible to hedge against later.
Editor's note: This article was updated to add comments from Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik.
Editor: Helen Wright