Karmen Joller: Why vaccination is slow, an explanatory note for the PM

Karmen Joller.
Karmen Joller. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

It is possible for work to progress slowly in a situation where it is impossible to plan. Family doctors have now spent two months trying to administer vaccines that are almost nonexistent. While there are some in certain places and too many in others, with not enough here and there, Karmen Joller writes.

How Dr. Terep and I urged family doctors to administer vaccines before everything turned out as it always does. (An explanatory note for the prime minister who said on March 4 that family doctors need to be urged to vaccinate people, while she has no criticism for them.)


To tell the whole story and tell it truthfully, I must start on a Wednesday when I picked up Dr. Alina Terep and we drove all the way to Narva, listening to upbeat tunes on the radio.

Our goal was noble – to determine whether Ida-Viru County family doctors are as keen to vaccinate people against the coronavirus as their colleagues elsewhere in Estonia. Because rumor had it that they were not and we wanted to spur them on. Naturally, it turned out that they were as keen as you please! Family doctors in Ida-Viru County are just as hardworking and lively as their colleagues in the rest of Estonia. Some had already vaccinated people, while we even caught one family medicine center red-handed – they were vaccinating!

Back home, Dr. Terep and I shared our experience with other hardworking family physicians. Everyone was glad that the farthest corner of Estonia had been inspected and vaccination could commence.

In truth, Dr. Terep and I had been vaccinating people before, as had other family doctors who had the good fortune of having received some vaccine. The shots were administered hand in trembling hand with family nurses as everyone doubted their ability.

Everyone did fine. Family nurses are just as hardworking and lively as family doctors. They can vaccinate the whole of Lasnamäe, Pärnu or Räpina when working together. If only there were vaccines.

Things were fine until then. Well, to be perfectly honest, they weren't completely fine. (Family doctors are always honest, which is why I'm telling the whole story.)

It happened on several occasions that while a family medical center's nurse had made preparations for 60 doses, they actually received 30.

One needs to be thankful for every little bit during tough times. The nurse could only shrug their shoulders, and because things often go as they will despite lofty promises in this country, called people who had previously been asked to come in to tell them they can stay home and will be notified if more vaccine arrives. "I promise it will get here one day," they added.

The nurse knew by then that they would not register any more people until they had doses safely under lock and key in the freezer because it had been very painful to deliver bad news 30 times in a row.

At the same time, a different family nurse in a different medical center fell to their knees in overflowing gratitude – heaven had seen fit to send 90 doses instead of the 60 they had asked for.

Because the vaccine only keeps for a short time, the capable medical worker mobilized the family doctor, the center's other nurse, who was currently spending time with their children, and Leida the cleaning lady who picked up the phone and started placing calls to get an additional 30 people in to be vaccinated. Working at a family medicine center is pure and unadulterated joy!

Stories like that could be heard in almost all corners of the country, while we figured that because it was early days, mishaps like that were to be expected. They do happen even in developed countries, right. Right!

And to remain completely honest, family doctors started sending in more and more peculiar messages of having received vaccines too soon or too late, getting too many or too few.

For some reason, it always happened that the right doctors could not order the vaccine to the right place at the right time. The right place, mind you. Because more than a few family doctors got the chance to order vaccines for colleagues at the opposite end of the country, while the latter were unable to place an order at all. And even if they did, they could order vaccines only to places where they last worked eight years ago. The life of a family doctor is never dull.

It is very unexpected that such trifling problems left family doctors hesitant. In terms of whether they would ever see any vaccine. They were told Sunday. Somewhere in the day. This caused more than a few family doctors to spend their Sunday in the family medicine center instead of going skiing, even though Estonia had just received a lot of snow for the first time in years.

Besides, family doctors are very keen on skiing because it is healthy. But instead of attacking the slopes, the doctor had to stare out the window of their practice all Sunday. The truck arrived as early as 8 p.m. The good doctor even managed to get a bit of skiing in before midnight. Almost. Around their house. It still counts. A family doctor is always in high spirits.

Another thought that there would be no vaccine delivery that day and went home. They received a call an hour later, when they had already heated up yesterday's chicken stew, asking them why the medical center was empty on the day of the vaccine delivery.

The family physician put their teenage son in charge of the stew and rushed over – vaccines are more precious than gold and cannot be allowed to go to waste. Because patients need the vaccine. Luckily, the doctor lived just 10 kilometers away from the practice. Not 120 kilometers like what happened to Dr. Põlder. A family physician must be close to home.

Trying to be really honest, as I promised before, I am forced to admit that work might indeed progress slowly if it is impossible to plan.

Family doctors have now spent two months trying to administer vaccines that are almost nonexistent, while there is some in certain places and too many in others, with not enough here and there.

It is completely understandable and clear that family doctors should be urged to vaccinate. Family doctors understand the prime minister's concern and will try harder. Because I'm sure that if family doctors try hard enough, the vaccine truck will get there on time and with the right quantity of vaccine.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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