Lutsar: Estonia should consider extending period between vaccine injections

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Irja Lutsar. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Estonia should consider extending the period between two vaccine injections in order to offer primary protection for a larger number of people, said head of the government's scientific council Irja Lutsar. Minister of Health and Labour Tanel Kiik (Center) said that if experts support extending the period, changing the vaccination plan can be done.

As of Monday morning, more than 101,000 people have received at least one vaccine injection. A little more than half of them are still yet to receive their second jab and will do so over the next few weeks, ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported.

At a time when pharma developers are struggling with shipments and there are not enough vaccines for frontline workers, countries like Great Britain and Canada have chosen a different approach. The first coronavirus vaccine injection will be administered to as many people as possible and the second dose, ensuring the vaccine's maximum efficacy, will be delayed until vaccines are more readily available.

Külli Friedemann, head of the Health Insurance Fund's first-level services, said that if the second dose was delayed in Estonia from the start, the number of people vaccinated could have doubled.

Should Estonia go the way of Great Britain and ensure primary protection for as many people as possible? Minister of Health and Labour Tanel Kiik (Center) said he alone cannot make the decision. "This requires experts of respective fields assess pros, cons and risks, which also means taking responsibility in case of side effects if we do not follow the treatment plan," Kiik said.

Head of the government's scientific advisory council Irja Lutsar said the immunization committee has discussed this change in strategy twice before. The last time was just last week.

"The first time we discussed it was in January, the general decision then was there is too little data and we should be on a waiting position. There was an indication that the antibodies neutralizing the virus, their concentration after the second injection was far greater," Lutsar said.

She added that un-reviewed data came from Great Britain at the start of last week, indicating that the period between two vaccine injections could indeed be extended. The vaccine's efficacy after the first dose is 85 percent, Lutsar noted.

"Data from England was very positive, very hopeful. But I received the article the day before yesterday (Wednesday - ed), it needs a detailed go-over in the immunization committee. It is a decision for the whole country, but it is possible we go this way," she added.

If experts gave the idea their green light and politicians approved changing the national vaccination plan, vaccines could reach people faster. "There are no technical obstacles here. Since shipments are uncertain, we must ensure a second dose. Then there is less opportunity to administer first doses," Külli Friedemann said.

Health minister Tanel Kiik confirmed: "If healthcare experts assess that the cycle should be longer, I will not stand in the way."

Kiik said the immunoprophylaxis expert committee will convene in the coming weeks to also discuss the upper age limit of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Some EU countries have dropped the 70-year age limit.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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