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Finland may delay booster shots as vaccine delivery slows

Finland will begin administering second doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine on Monday.

ICU nurses receiving Pfizer's Covid jab in Tampere. Image: Petra Ketonen / Yle

Pfizer's announcement to temporarily reduce its European Covid vaccine deliveries is slowing down the pace of vaccinations against coronavirus in Finland. On Friday the drugmaker said it was limiting output while it upgrades production capacity.

Public health institute THL said the news meant Finland would next week receive 10,000 fewer doses than anticipated.

"We need more vaccines to keep up the vaccination pace," THL chief physician Hanna Nohynek told news agency STT.

Helsinki Hospital District (HUS) plans to start giving booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, according to STT.

"Starting next week, booster recipients will decrease the number of vaccines available to new people," said Kerstin Carlsson, head of HUS-Pharmacy at Helsinki Hospital District.

Nohynek said it was difficult to estimate how Pfizer's delays will affect Finland’s Covid vaccination plans. She said Finland may face two scenarios.

"We either reduce the number of people getting the first dose or then we delay the booster shot. The vaccine gap doesn’t necessarily need to be three weeks," Nohynek explained.

Prior to Pfizer's announcement on Friday, Finland had expected to receive some 50,000 doses every week through the end of February.

Finland began rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine to healthcare workers on 27 December. The manufacturer recommends a three to four week gap between doses.

Minimal Moderna

Finland will meanwhile start administering drugmaker Moderna's coronavirus vaccine on Monday. The THL said the first 5,000 doses were headed to hard-to-reach areas in rural Lapland that posed logistical hurdles for the Pfizer vaccine which requires a -70C cold chain. Moderna’s vaccine can be stored at -20C.

Like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine also requires two shots. The THL expects to receive another 5,000 doses from Moderna in two weeks.

EU states are meanwhile expecting European regulators to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab at the end of January.

Some 50,000 people in Finland have so far received Pfizer's Covid vaccine, according to the THL.