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South Savo strives to avoid wasting leftover Covid jabs

Sometimes people miss their vaccination appointments, but the region of South Savo tries to find recipients for excess doses at the end of each day.

Essoten johtava farmaseutti Eija Toivonen esittelee koronarokotteiden laatikoita.
Hospitals in South Savo have managed to extract seven vaccine doses from one bottle. Image: Petri Vironen / Yle

In Finland's region of South Savo, distribution of Covid-19 vaccinations are progressing quickly, according to local health authorities.

The jabs can be only kept at room temperature for up to six hours. If a client fails to arrive for their scheduled vaccination appointment, a new recipient is urgently sought to replace them.

According to South Savo Social and Health Care Authority (Essote) pandemic manager Hans Gärdsröm, fewer than five vaccines have been wasted in the Essote area to date.

"We always know, in the last hour of the workday, if we will have doses to spare. That’s when we start looking within the hospital for patients or staff members that we could vaccinate," said Gärdström.

The goal is to find someone within the vaccination target group to receive the leftover vaccine.

Calls go out to friends and loved ones

If no recipient can be found from individuals who would be eligible to get the vaccine, calls are sometimes made to their eligible friends or family. The authority has also offered jabs to workers at larger companies nearby the vaccination centre.

"Our intention is not to favour anyone, but sometimes you have to call several places to see if someone can come by immediately," said Gärdström.

But finding recipients is becoming more difficult as the vaccination rate increases in the area.

Helsingin Sanomat reported in March that the City of Helsinki had discarded more than 1,000 vaccine doses, due to people not showing up for their appointments.

According to the Institute for Health and Welfare THL, vaccine waste should be avoided by any means. The priority should be making every vaccine dose count, rather than closely adhering to the vaccination schedule.

Taking advantage of every drop

In the Essote area, nearly every drop of vaccines is used. While the official amount is five doses per every Pfizer vaccine bottle, South Savo has been able to extract seven doses from a bottle.

"First, we introduced eye syringes, with which we were able to get six doses from a bottle. Then we started using air bubble technology and we were able to absorb up to seven doses that way," said Essote head pharmacist Eija Toivonen.

In practice, hospital pharmacists dilute nearly all vaccines given at the central hospital. Air bubble technology can be used in the majority of hospital districts if appropriate equipment is used.

"Our pharmacists that handle the distribution of medicine in the ophthalmology department came up with the idea of using eye syringes. The method of distribution has been fine-tuned along the way. The new methods have generated great savings and great benefits for the residents of the area," said Toivonen.

The Essote area is opening up vaccinations to people born in the 1970s this week.

The aim is to have more than 70 percent of the population vaccinated in South Savo by the beginning of June. Seventy percent is the population amount assumed needed to achieve herd immunity, and it is also the EU objective.

"Enthusiasm for the vaccinations is high. Of course, we aim to achieve an even higher vaccination rate than 70 percent of people over the age of 16," said Gärdsröm.

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