Coronavirus vaccinations will be rolled out to healthcare workers in January, and then to the elderly and at-risk groups in February, according to Chief Physician Taneli Puumalainen of the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday morning, Puumalainen laid out Finland’s proposed vaccination strategy, saying that once these priority groups were vaccinated, the rest of the population could receive the vaccine later in the spring.
"Vaccinations for social and healthcare staff are a priority because they are working with coronavirus patients. If they get infected, they will be out of work and the healthcare capacity will deteriorate and may become endangered," Puumalainen said.
He added that Finland is involved in the EU's joint procurement of vaccines, and as soon as the authorities receive the necessary marketing authorisation, Finland is ready to begin vaccinating.
The EU has an agreement with six vaccine manufacturers and is currently negotiating with a seventh.
"The amount of vaccinations will definitely be enough for all people living in Finland. We do not yet know the exact details of the distribution," Puumalainen replied in an answer to a question from the media about when the entire population could expect to be vaccinated.
Vaccine available free of charge
Social Services Minister Krista Kiuru (SDP) also spoke at the Thursday morning press conference, and said that if the marketing authorisations for the vaccines are received ahead of schedule, vaccinations can start as early as December.
However, Kiuru said the vaccine is unlikely to come in sufficient amounts right from the outset, and that the aim will therefore be to distribute the vaccines at the same rate throughout the country so that no region is left behind.
The minister added that regional adjustments are also possible based on factors such as the age of the local population.
After a cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening, Kiuru informed the media that the government’s distribution strategy had been outlined and will be approved at a later meeting.
"To protect the entire population, the vaccine will be offered to everyone, with the exception of people who have a health condition that prevents them from receiving it," Kiuru said on Wednesday, a point she reiterated at Thursday’s press conference, adding that the vaccine will be made available free of charge.
Christmas raises concerns for intensive care capacity
Puumalainen also said that 540 new coronavirus infections had been recorded in Finland on Thursday, with a current incidence rate of around 100, which is still relatively good compared to other European countries.
"The rate of increase is what worries us," Puumalainen said, adding that infections are on the rise almost everywhere in the country.
He also asked about whether it would be possible for people to travel within Finland over the Christmas period.
"Necessary travel is possible, but I would appeal to people to spend Christmas with their close circle and connect to other parts of Finland by phone or video," he replied, and expressed concern about the adequacy of intensive care capacity if the number of hospitalisations were to increase sharply.