The work of a mass coronavirus vaccine center in North Tallinn suffered teething problems Saturday, with vaccines administered at a slower rate than they had been the previous day.
Health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Saturday evening that the day's events could have gone better with hindsight, adding that the focus at present needs to remain on vaccinating the elderly.
Large numbers of people who were not eligible to receive a vaccine reportedly arrived at the Sõle center and another facility in Lasnamäe, which was open for its first day, partly after media reports claimed that vaccines were available.
Vaccine centers struggled to deal with turning people away, it was reported, which by the regulations had to happen for those individuals who arrived without the required booking or meeting minimum age requirements.
The center, operated by private sector firm Confido had started vaccinating on Friday, taking advantage of the recent arrival of the largest single coronavirus vaccine consignment to reach Estonia so far, and while it administered close to 4,000 vaccines that day, on Saturday, when a center run by Medicum, one of Confido's competitors opened in Lasnamäe, fewer than half that number of jabs were given at Sõle.
At least one article, published Saturday afternoon by commercial portal Geenius, under the Pelgulinna teataja banner (Pelgulinn being the region of Tallinn where the Sõle Sports Center is located - ed.) claimed that younger people (i.e. below 65) could potentially pick up COVID-19 vaccines at the Sõle center due to free vaccines and time slots, while similar claims reportedly circulated via social media and word-of-mouth as well.
The Sõle center administered less than half the volume of coronavirus vaccines Saturday, that it had on its first day of work on Friday (when close to 4,000 doses were given).
Kadi Lambot, head of the Sõle center said that several hundred members of the public had congregated at the center without the required pre-registration.
Confido's competitor, Medicum, which operates the other vaccine center which opened this weekend (on Saturday) at the Tondiraba Ice Hall in Lasnamäe had additionally and unilaterally lowered the minimum age for receiving vaccines to 50, which also led to reported confusion.
Conversely, fewer people actually eligible – those aged 65 or more who had pre-registered, or over 60 in the case of identified at-risk individuals – were actually present than anticipated, Lambot said.
The upshot was that many people had to be turned away on the day.
This need not be a permanent state of affairs, Lambot added – more vaccines could be administered than so far have been, but the logistics of this need to be more thoroughly thought through.
At the same time, those who had booked generally turned up, with only a handful who had registered not appearing on the day, for whatever reason, Lambot added.
"However, it is not our job as medical professionals [to organize the logistics and publicization of mass vaccinations], and we are currently trying to resolve the situation on the ground," Lambot told ERR.
Prime minister: Please be patient on vaccines
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) called for patience and calm on Saturday. "The day at vaccine centers today has shown how great the desire of our people is to be vaccinated, and I understand that desire."
"Unfortunately, as you will be aware, there are currently a limited number of vaccines available, and it is important for our elderly and at-risk groups to be vaccinated first," Kallas went on.
"I ask everyone who is not here at the moment to have a little patience – your vaccination time will come soon," said Kallas.
Kallas nonetheless suggested the information-sharing approach to making neighbors or acquaintances who tick the box in terms of age or at-risk status, aware of options for getting vaccines.
Nearly 4,000 vaccinated in Tallinn Friday, less than 3,000 on Saturday
A total of 2,880 people successfully received a coronavirus vaccine on Saturday nonetheless, ERR reports, across both centers, Sõle and Tondiraba (which administer a reported 1,380 vaccinations Saturday), less than half the 3,935 administered at Sõle alone on Good Friday.
Kadi Lambot said that Easter Sunday (in the western calendar, but not the Russian Orthodox calendar - ed.) would be a repeat of Saturday, i.e. that only pre-booked people who are in the eligible age bracket should attend.
Health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) said that he had talked to both Confido and Medicum to make it clear that only the over 65s can be vaccinated Sunday (along with over 60s with co-morbidities, as noted – ed.).
Kiik also said that Saturday's handling of the situation could have gone better, despite all the parties' best intentions.
At the moment, there are around 200,000 people in the 60+ age group who have not yet been vaccinated, meaning between 30 and 45 percent of the total have received at least one COVID-19 dose, while the target level is 70-80 percent, Kiik added.
At the same time, around three-quarters of those hospitalized due to the virus are from the elderly demographic, he said.
Kiik added that while he sympathized with those vaccination center employees at Sõle and Tondiraba who were faced with large numbers of ineligible people arriving for a vaccine, the rules were the rules and needed to remain in place.
In Tallinn, the local municipal police (MuPo), a separate entity from the regular Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), are tasked with overseeing proceedings at the two centers – which will soon be joined by four more, the capital's mayor, Mihhail Kõlvart (Center), says. No serious incidents were reported at either center and AK's report showed the public waiting in line.
For those in the eligible age bracket, the vaccine appointment phone lines are +372 600 7775 (Estonian) and +372 600 7774 (Russian); the Estonian-language line informed ERR News Friday that English-speaking operators were available on that number. Registration is also possible via the digilugu patients' portal.
More vaccine information is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte