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THL: Vaccinating whole population could take until December

Finland had expected more doses than actually arrived as part of the EU's vaccine procurement programme. 

Sote-henkilöstölle annettiin koronavirusrokotteita Helsingissä tammikuun 2021 alussa.
Vaccination points were being set up across Finland in the first week of 2021. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

It could take until the end of the year to vaccinate everyone in Finland against Covid-19, according to health authorities speaking at a press conference on Tuesday.

Officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) told journalists that Finland had so far vaccinated between 6,000 and 7,000 people in a programme that began on 27 December.

Finland is expecting some 5-7 million doses of vaccine by the summer, which would be enough to vaccinate some 2.5 million to 3.5 million people.

"It could take until the end of the year to vaccinate the whole population," said Mia Kontio of THL.

Municipalities in charge

Officials said on Tuesday that the vaccine rollout is in the hands of local government.

"This is not about political decision-making, this is medical science and logistics," said Tuija Kumpulainen from the ministry. "This is the job of healthcare professionals and municipalities."

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only approved vaccine in the EU at present, with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) set to make a decision on the Moderna vaccine on Wednesday.

Storage requirements for the Pfizer shot are tricky, with the vials only keeping for five days in normal refrigerators.

Kontio said that this meant staff had to ensure they had enough people waiting to be vaccinated when they received a shipment.

During January Finland is to receive around 200,000 doses or roughly 50,000 per week. At that pace, vaccines will only be given to older people outside care homes in February at the earliest.

First in line for the jab are medical workers caring for Covid patients, and care home workers and residents. There are around 150,000 people in those categories.

Next up will be the over-70s, who number roughly 800,000.

Vaccination points on the way

Several vaccination points are opening this week, and inoculations in care homes have already begun.

However, there are some challenges to be overcome in getting the vaccine into arms.

"For example vaccine permission for customers of care services needs to be sought from their relatives," said Leena Turpeinen of the City of Helsinki.

Last year there was talk of large shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, said Kontio, noting that production delays have slowed down deliveries and that the company's production for EU orders might only ramp up towards the end of the year.

If the Moderna vaccine is approved on Wednesday, small quantities of that shot will be available.

The AstraZeneca vaccine's approval process in Europe has slipped, however, and a timetable for approving it has not yet been announced. It could be delayed until February.

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