Had Tallink not taken its vaccination proposal to the press, nothing would have happened. Is the fear of negative PR really the only driving force in this country, Paul Keres asks.
News last week revealed that the Ministry of Social Affairs rejected a proposal by Tallink to vaccinate passengers on board its ferries. It is difficult to imagine a more convenient and rational way to carry out immunization of ferry passengers. And yet, it was not deemed necessary.
The service would have been free of charge, with Tallink organizing the entire process, including finding qualified staff working with a private clinic. The only thing the state had to do was supply the vaccine.
But no. The level of cynicism involved was reflected in head of the national vaccination effort Marek Seer describing Tallink's initiative as a good idea that is unfortunately impossible to realize. Why? Because it was not on the agenda. Because officials do not care at the end of the day?
However, we suddenly learned on Thursday that Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik had, as if by miracle, found additional vaccines! Tallink is now permitted to launch vaccination on June 17. This is obviously an improvised attempt at damage control as the reaction of both traditional and social media proved exceptionally unfavorable for the ministry. Something had to be done. "Okay then, let's make the Tallink thing happen."
Unfortunately, the initial jerking around of Tallink, Confido (private clinic – ed.) and ferry passengers cannot be undone or trust in the ministry restored so easily. Nothing would have been done had Tallink not turned to the press. Is fear of negative public opinion really the only driving force in this country?
Suggesting nothing in terms of whether mass vaccination is good or bad, dangerous or safe, it has clearly been a top priority and urgent policy of the two previous governments that are within their rights to phrase and lay down such policies. But policies also need to be executed. And yet, this one is being put into practice as an ordinary solution to a run-of-the-mill problem that can be handled carelessly, torpidly and "as per usual."
In any normal country, the social minister and the rest of the healthcare brass would have been forced to resign a long time ago as a result of chaotic handling of the coronavirus situation and vaccination that has grown out of unperformed tasks, preferential treatment of the nomenclature, disorderliness and incompetence.
There might even be proceedings to determine whether officials violated the law (gross negligence in performing duties) resulting in severe consequences for the country, such as loss of life, billions in economic damage, bankruptcies, unemployment, loss of income and human fate. But not in this country. Instead, we are basking in the glory of being the n-th fastest at vaccination in the EU, firmly ahead of Latvia.
Someone said quite strikingly that the pace of vaccination in the EU is a snail race compared to the Seychelles, Israel, Bahrain, the United Kingdom etc.
Only Hungary can keep pace with the world's forerunners in terms of COVID-19 vaccination. But since we are not yet in last place among those who have been lapped, the private sector, when it proposes unorthodox solutions in the vaccination program, is told that we will think about and analyze it (shelve it and write up a bulletin to calm the masses).
The PR department is working overtime as messages were also mixed up alongside everything else this time. Minister Tanel Kiik boasted on Friday how Estonia will save the world by gifting other countries vaccines, while Marek Seer shut down vaccination on Tallink ferries due to lack of vaccines the same day.
This is not the first time the state has demonstrated complete and utter indifference. While Estonia missed the train on Pfizer's vaccination program that was instead launched in Israel and has put the country light-years ahead of Estonia in terms of vaccination, the analogous Johnson&Johnson cooperation project of [former] President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and a group of young entrepreneurs and experts was deliberately ruined. Had the project been successfully realized, Estonia would have long since vaccinated the entire society, achieved a top-priority policy and reopened society.
It is difficult to call this anything other than incompetence and self-justification on the part of the social ministry. Unfortunately, people have to pay for it with the lives of their loved ones and means.
In closing, allow me to lament the degradation of political culture based on the example of back-to-back mishaps in healthcare-related IT and the digital registration system.
Family doctors were forced to use spreadsheets to keep track of vaccination. Booking a time for vaccination immediately caused the entire digital registration system to crash, causing other digital health services, such as making a doctor's appointment for a child or an elderly relative or even learning the result of one's Covid test, to become unavailable. Confusion, wasted time and nerves, whereas more severe consequences having occurred is by no means out of the question.
Once again, winter arrived unexpectedly, as the saying goes, despite the National Audit Office lamenting the poor state of healthcare IT systems for years. At the same time, we are told in the radio, on television and in the papers how Estonia can contribute its digital solutions, educate partners in the digital domain etc.
A glitch in the social ministry's IT system that caused a delay in the paying of disability benefits in January of 2009 cost the jobs of the ministry's IT director, secretary general and minister Maret Maripuu. Today, even complete chaos in handling the pandemic and vaccine organization is not enough to see people take political or departmental responsibility.
Less self-justification and communication and more solutions and involvement is what I would like to see as a citizen. I believe I am not alone.
It seems that all manner of responsibility can still be shirked by self-justification, whereas what the state spends on communication is nothing short of staggering. I'm sure that if we can stop putting our foot in it, considerable sums could be saved on PR and communication.
Editor: Marcus Turovski