Vaccination plan does not see pharmacies included in process

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A BENU pharmacy. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

As vaccinations for people aged under 50 are set to begin in Estonia next week, pharmacies have stated their availability to assist in the process. The state vaccination plan however points to sufficient capabilities in inoculating the general public.

Franchise manager of BENU pharmacies Rainer Kaseväli told ERR that pharmacists have the readiness to assist with vaccinating, but they do not have the necessary license to provide special medical services. Instead, all pharmacists have a license to provide pharmaceutical services, based on which they are not allowed to administer vaccines.

Apotheka franchise model chief Marika Pensa said pharmacists have stated to the Ministry of Social Affairs and the prime minister's office their preparedness to add COVID-19 vaccinations to their list of administrable vaccines, which also includes the influenza and tick-borne encephalitis.

"Unfortunately, all proposals have been rejected so far, justifying it with a shortage of injectors. In actuality, we have more than enough vaccinators, they just need the conditions and opportunity and they will alleviate the over-stressed family physicians in that way," Pensa added.

She pointed out that pharmacists are highly educated people with medical degrees and it would take a week to conduct respective trainings. As a result, vaccines could be administered at pharmacies as well.

When administering influenza and encephalitis vaccines, healthcare service providers use pharmacy rooms for the process. The pharmacists do not actually vaccinate anyone themselves.

Health Insurance Fund spokesperson Evelin Trink told ERR that a healthcare worker must still have a license to provide special medicine services to administer vaccines.

"Vaccination centers will open now and there, hospitals and family physician centers provide us with the necessary capabilities to administer the necessary amount of vaccines. In addition, there are 15 assisting partners from the private sector," Trink said.

She added that pharmacies are not included in the state's vaccination plan. An option on the table currently is that family physicians would be allowed to administer vaccines to people outside their registry.

Last week, a record 67,722 vaccine doses were administered in Estonia, with half of those being second doses. The government is also discussing a vaccination plan to open vaccinations for people aged under 50.

Mass vaccination for the 18-49 year age group is still expected to open in the second half of May. However, despite the government saying everyone would be vaccinated at once, there are now discussions that the 40-49 age group may be done first followed by those under 40 after.

The Ministry of Social Affairs said on Friday that 40,950 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech, 8,400 doses of Moderna and 6,400 doses of Janssen COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in Estonia this week.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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