COVID-19 vaccine administration hindered by holidays and staff training

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The first COVID-19 vaccines administered at Tartu University Hospital and University Family Doctors' Center. Source: Jassu Hertsmann / Ministry of Social Affairs.

Despite Estonia receiving almost 10,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on December 26, only 2,500 have been vaccinated so far. Vaccinations started straight away, but hospitals have said they wanted to start calmly with good quality services. The New Year's Eve holiday has also played a part.

108 employees have been vaccinated at Pärnu Hospital so far and the second batch of 500 vaccines arrived on Monday, ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Monday evening.

Medical manager of Pärnu Hospital Veiko Vahula said: "The wise do not rush and colleagues in Ida-Viru County and Harju County, in Tallinn, who work in much more difficult conditions than ours, were priorities in this sense."

Tallinn's North Estonian Medical Center initially received 700 doses of the vaccine and had carried out 699 by Monday.

Chairman of the Board Agris Peedu said: "We had actually taken into account that the vaccine would arrive in the first days of the new year. So we are happy with the 700 doses. We didn't want any more at that moment because it was such a calm start, we didn't want to do a very big mass vaccination."

Approximately 200 members of staff have been vaccinated at the Tartu University Clinic after 500 doses were initially received and the remaining doses will be administered this week.

Director of the Infection Control Service of the hospital Matti Maimets said it has been necessary for staff to receive training during this period: "We have all heard that here and there some doses of vaccine have been wasted. The most important thing is to administer it well and store it well."

The hospital also did not carry out vaccinations on public holidays, January 1 and the following weekend.

Priit Perens, head of the University of Tartu Clinic, said the pace of vaccinations has not been limited and is also contingent on syringe supplies.

Perens said: "The pharmacy is preparing syringes for us. Initially, the rate was 100 syringes a day. We will increase that pace when more vaccines are available, but we will have run out of vaccines by Wednesday. I don't see there has been any delay."

Perens agreed the holiday period had also been a factor.

He said: "On the first and the second [of January] we weren't really vaccinating, but essentially since the 29th [of December] we have been administering injections every day."

The University of Tartu Clinic will get 1,000 doses from the new batch of vaccines and plans to administer these at a rate of 300 doses per day.

Perens added that inoculations would take place at a rate dictated by both demand and supply, and that daily rates did not make a big difference to the overall picture.

Andre Kotsar, the treatment manager at the clinic, said that using all vaccines at once would not have a significant effect, epidemiologically speaking.

Kotsar said that: "There is no evidence-based information on which to make a difference. It is believed that vaccine stocks are still extremely small at first. I am similarly of the opinion that we are administering the quantities we need."

The likelihood of an individual being immunized by receiving a vaccine a week earlier, for example, does not outweigh risks of mistakes if the early stages of vaccine roll-out are too hurried, Kotsar added.

He said:  "This vaccine is undoubtedly very special. It is very sensitive to temperature. Its preparation is not quite comparable and analogous to the preparation of the 'flu vaccine."

In due course, the rate could increase to around 1,000 vaccinations per day, he added.

Undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs Maris Jesse said not all the vaccines were sent to hospitals before the Christmas break because many members of staff were on vacation and demand was low.

"It was the health authorities own decisions to respect health workers' rights to be with their families over the new year. If last week had been a perfectly normal working week, with five working days, then the whole delivery would have been used last week," she said.

On Monday, the second batch of 9,750 Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in Estonia. Two doses of the vaccine must be administered separately to gain immunity but Jesse said the new batch will not be set aside for second doses as weekly shipments are expected.

Editor's note: After the latest figures were released by the Health Board the number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 has risen to 3,188 and 653 vaccinations were administered during the last day. Data about vaccinations can be viewed on the Health Board's website, currently only on the Estonian page.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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