Take-up of coronavirus vaccines in Tallinn has been lower than anticipated, following the opening of two mass vaccine centers opened in the capital Friday and Saturday, joining inoculation nationwide on a larger-scale than has been the case up to now.
Confusion reportedly also reigned Saturday after the private sector operators of one of the two centers unilaterally lowered the minimum age for potential recipients, while many people arrived at the two centers without the required appointment.
The result is that around 4,000 AstraZeneca doses earmarked for this weekend may be available next week, from the over 20,000 set aside nationwide, mostly to special centers, with about 6,000 allocated to family doctors, ERR reports.
Health Board (Terviseamet) spokesperson Imre Kaas said that: "It has been an unpleasant surprise that interest in vaccinations has been lower than previously expected."
"At the moment, the goal is not to administer all the available doses by Sunday if that would make it necessary to deviate from set risk groups or age groups. Family doctor centers and partners can continue to administer the doses allocated to them next week," Kaas added.
Mass vaccination centers open as more doses arrive
The mass vaccination drive took advantage of the fact that over 45,000 AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine doses had arrived in Estonia earlier in the week, more than had previously been received at any one time.
Health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) says a further 27,000 doses of Pfizer / BioNTech vaccines are to arrive in the country next week,
The three-day Easter weekend was also a factor, while public transport in Tallinn has been running on normal working-day schedules during that time, to help vaccine recipients get to the two centers safely.
Tanel Kiik also spoke of his opposition to Medicum's lowering of the vaccine age limit to 50. Medicum operates the vaccine center at Tondiraba, Lasnamäe, which opened Saturday.
Confido unilaterally lowered minimum age for vaccine eligibility
The minimum age to receive a vaccine set in place at that center, the other currently functioning center on Sõle street in North Tallinn, operated by Confido, and planned future centers in Tallinn plus those working nationwide, is 65, with those over 60 identified as at-risk also eligible.
"I think it is right that we stick to the agreed rules," Kiik told AK.
The first inkling that Medicum was offering vaccines to lower age groups than planned was reported by ERR's online news in Estonian Friday morning, after it became clear from the company's site that most applicants born in 1971 or earlier (i.e. 50 or over) could register for a vaccine at the Tondiraba center once it started working Saturday.
"There is no justification for such unilateral actions," he went on, adding that it could interfere with the priority vaccination of the elderly.
"We can see that we have needed hospital spaces for over 6,000 people in Estonia, and we know that the majority of them are the elderly. Even today, 70 percent of those hospitalized are in the 60+ age group. It is important to vaccinate this target group against COVID-19 first," Kiik went on.
Vaccines started arriving in Estonia at Christmas time, with health-care and other front-line workers being prioritized ahead of the elderly. More recently, this group has been expanded to include teachers and members of the government and others in a leadership role, including the president.
According to Kaas, it will be finally revealed on Sunday how much of the vaccines will be injected next week; Kaas said that those centers administering the vaccines had been made aware that unused surpluses were to be kept for use later next week.
Harju County, which includes Tallinn and the most populous region of the country, saw the highest number of doses over the weekend so far, at 11,800. Tartu County was next, with 4,700, while around 2,000 doses were administered in Lääne County – a sparsely populated county with fewer than 60,000 inhabitants, but sandwiched between two more densely populated counties, Harju and Ida-Viru, both of which have experienced higher coronavirus rates than the national average since at least last autumn.
Vaccination continues on Sunday. More information is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte