While vaccinations in Estonia got off to a decently quick start, the vaccination tempo has dropped off considerably. Ministry of Social Affairs Undersecretary Maris Jesse told ERR that the pace will be picked up again in August.
Jesse visited ERR's web show "Otse uudistemajast" on Wednesday and said the rapid vaccination tempo in February and March was possible due to aimed target group inoculations. "Perhaps the mass vaccination centers were opened a little too soon, the vaccines should have stayed with family physicians for another two-three weeks," Jesse said.
She noted that the slow pace over the Midsummer holiday and summer vacation period was expected, but the state does not want to give up its goal of achieving at least 80 percent coverage in the 60+ age group.
"My assessment is that vaccination intensity will pick up significantly in August, even those who doubted will get vaccinated," Jesse said.
She agreed with critics who say that the state should use more powerful campaigning in popularizing vaccines. "I agree that right now is the time where you should not be able to open any online media outlets without seeing a banner asking if you have been vaccinated. It should be more visible in the urban space, as well. An unfortunate delay happened with the media procurement. I cannot publish the details, but it will get fixed," Jesse told show host Toomas Sildam.
Jesse noted that the vaccination tempo would not be accelerated by vaccine buses sent to county centers and vaccine tents at major events.
"Our points of concern are not in rural areas. The lowest vaccination rates are in Tallinn districts - except for Nõmme and Pirita - Sillamäe, Narva, Paldiski, Loksa and Maardu. Those are not rural areas," the social affairs ministry official said.
"Vaccination is not just injecting a fluid, it must also come with telling people what they need to look out for and telling them who to contact when they need to. Vaccinating at large music festivals when the person's aim was to come and have fun - I see more risks there," Jesse added.
Unclear who needs a third dose
The current immunization plan is valid until spring of next year. Jesse said the main question then is who should be given a third vaccine dose. "Nobody in the world knows that yet. We have different scenarios. It is possible that we have to call all people back to get vaccinated in 12 months. It is possible that only people with a certain vaccine require a third vaccine, likely those whose immunity is weaker and the elderly and chronically ill people," she said.
Show host Toomas Sildam asked Jesse when a third wave of the coronavirus would come, to which she replied that it is likely to come along with the fall flu season. But it can be forecast already that it will not be like last year, if only based on the number of vaccinated people.
There should not be any major fear of hospitals being overburdened again, as they were during the second wave, Jesse said. "If the government's restrictions would have come two-three weeks earlier, hospitals' burdens would have been lesser. But these are wisdoms in hindsight. The potential spread of the Alpha strain was underrated," Jesse said.
The social affairs ministry undersecretary also ruled out running for a second term, saying it was a difficult decision to make.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste