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Finland's vaccination pace slows as second Covid jabs begin

Experts say they are unsure of what will happen to Finland's leftover doses of AstraZeneca shots.

Sairaanhoitaja antoi nuorelle naiselle Pfizerin koronavirusrokotteen.
A person receiving a coronavirus vaccine at a mass vaccination centre in Helsinki's Jätkäsaari district. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Finland's vaccination pace is slowing down as a greater number of people start receiving booster doses. Elderly residents and healthcare workers are first in line for the second injection.

Many people in Finland who have received one shot of a coronavirus vaccine are scheduled for a second dose this month. This means fewer vaccines are available for those getting their first jab, even though officials say vaccine deliveries to the country are picking up.

Finland’s decision to administer a different mRNA vaccine to people under 65 who received AstraZeneca for their initial shot is also slowing the pace of vaccination. Finnish health authorities in April said they would limit AstraZeneca to those aged 65 and over following reports of potentially deadly blood clots in a very small number of younger adults.

Mia Kontio of public health institute THL said some of the AstraZeneca doses in Finland will probably not be used, though it’s still uncertain what will happen to them.

"Now these AstraZeneca deliveries are suspended. But whether it’s possible to move these doses anywhere, is pretty unlikely," she said.

Finland defends 12-week interval

Earlier this year Finland extended the gap between vaccine doses to three months. The country is now administering around 80,000 second jabs weekly, according to Kontio.

"The pace will slow down for a few weeks, although incoming vaccine volumes are growing. Deliveries will speed up even more in early June, which is when things will even out again and the pace of first shots will accelerate," she explained.

Kontio told Yle she believed Finland’s vaccination strategy of implementing 12-week intervals between first and second doses had been a good idea.

"At this moment studies show that over three months antibodies don’t decrease to a level that would significantly weaken protection. From the perspective of long-term cover, this bigger gap could even be better," she explained, defending Finland's strategy.

Kontio also speculated that other European countries may introduce longer intervals between shots to maximise the number of people getting their first inoculation.

No more AstraZeneca orders

Last week, Finland received a record shipment of more than 400,000 vaccines. Nearly half of these doses were, however, AstraZeneca ones, the majority of which Kontio said Finland would not immediately use.

Some 250,000 doses are now arriving every week, according to Kontio. Pfizer vaccines make up some 200,000, while Moderna accounts for 35-40,000 doses. Going forward, Finland is also set to receive an estimated 40,000 weekly doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Finnish vaccine experts have said they plan to determine which age groups will receive the J&J vaccine after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) issues its recommendation on use of the vaccine this week.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Finland has the EU's second-highest cumulative uptake of at least one vaccine dose among adults: 38.4 percent.

Hungary has the highest rate at 50.5 percent of adults. It is the only EU country that is using the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, which has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.

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