Municipalities across Finland have started planning for the roll out of a mass vaccination strategy, with large convention centres in major cities set to be the focal points.
Authorities in Turku are making preparations to begin an extensive vaccination programme in the city in February, which will be concentrated around the Turku Fair Centre.
A similar strategy was used last year for the providing of influenza vaccinations.
"In this case, the space is really important," the City of Turku’s infectious diseases doctor Jutta Peltoniemi told Yle. "The space must be large enough to allow effective vaccination and to take into account the safety distances associated with the coronavirus. There must also be a follow-up waiting room for after the vaccination has been provided."
Peltoniemi added that it is possible to make up to 20 separate vaccination lines at the Fair Centre, meaning that potentially thousands of people could be vaccinated per day.
"Up to 10,000 vaccines a week could be administered in Turku, and then we can move forward quickly. But that’s a much higher amount than what is currently being delivered," Peltoniemi said.
Supply problems may hamper plans
Peltoniemi said the approval of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is a precondition for the roll out of a mass vaccination programme.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is currently reviewing the marketing authorisation for this vaccine with a decision expected at the end of January.
However, a further practical concern is that there is very little precise information on the availability of vaccines.
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"If it is known that, for example, 5,000 vaccines a week will be available, then 5,000 appointment times can be offered. If this is not known, then how can we dare to offer the appointments? Knowing the amount is really important," Peltonniemi said, adding that clarity on the vaccination strategy from health agency THL is also essential.
"What are the national marketing authorisation conditions for who can be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine? Clarification of the information is needed so that we can inform the public," she said.
THL: Timings difficult to estimate
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare's (THL's) specialist Mia Kontio told Yle that the timing of a mass vaccination programme is difficult to estimate, with April the earliest likely date.
"We are completely dependent on the information provided by the vaccine manufacturers. Pfizer and Biontech will provide the information four weeks in advance and we will forward this immediately to the hospital districts," Kontio explained.
According to information provided by THL, the coronavirus vaccine in Finland is first offered to social and healthcare personnel that treat coronavirus patients, as well as workers and residents in residential services and nursing homes for the elderly. Next in line for vaccinations are people aged 70 and over.
The third group includes people considered to be at high risk for severe Covid-19 disease due to underlying health conditions. After these priority groups have received their jab, the vaccine will be provided to the rest of the population.
You can listen to the latest All Points North podcast on Finland's vaccination strategy via the embedded player here or via Yle Areena, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or your usual podcast player using the RSS feed.
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According to Kontio, once the AstraZeneca vaccine receives the required marketing authorisation, hundreds of thousands of doses of the vaccine can be delivered to Finland within a couple of weeks of the approval.
"It allows for more extensive vaccinations. However, it must be remembered that first-in-line vaccinations include healthcare professionals and those over 70 years of age. There are already a million of them alone, so two million doses of the vaccine will be needed before the next groups can be vaccinated," Kontio said.
The THL specialist added that with regard to the AstraZeneca vaccine, it is not possible to know in advance whether the vaccine is suitable for everyone over the age of 16 or 18, or whether there is an upper age limit based on the results of efficacy studies.
"First and foremost, we want to protect the elderly. Even if hundreds of thousands of doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine are immediately available, it will go into vaccinations for the elderly, if it is suitable for them," Kontio said.
In Finland, municipalities are responsible for administering vaccines in their own area in cooperation with hospital and special care districts, and also with the private sector if the local authority chooses to do so.
"The implementation of vaccinations is the responsibility of municipalities. They determine whether they can handle all vaccinations themselves or whether they involve private firms. The private sector is now involved in vaccinations, which means that we are cooperating all the time," Kontio said.