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Turku and Helsinki hospital districts deny hoarding vaccine

Hospital officials say the need to keep vaccine frozen means it is distributed to municipalities in measured batches.

Koronarokotus ruiskeita valmiina.
Image: Kristiina Lehto / Yle

The Helsinki University Hospital District (HUS) and the Hospital District of Southwest Finland have pointed to the difficulties posed by limited freezer storage capacity at local vaccination units in response to an inquiry by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health for information about the amounts of Covid-19 vaccine they have on hand.

Earlier this week the ministry announced that it had sent a request for clarification of the amount of vaccine held by the two hospital districts and their vaccine distribution plans.

According to the Ministry, 17,789 doses had not yet been distributed in the HUS district as well as 12,964 doses in the Hospital District of Southwest Finland.

Changed guidelines and storage issues

In its response, filed on Friday, HUS said that in addition to prompt vaccination, the main idea of the vaccination programme is to ensure that doses are not wasted, municipalities receive vaccines equally, and that projections can be made of the availability of the vaccine within municipalities.

According to HUS, the main reason for phasing vaccine deliveries is related to the deep-freezing of the vaccine. The Comirnaty vaccine currently in use requires cold temperature storage. Once thawed the vaccine can be stored in a refrigeration unit for no more than five days.

"Vaccines have been sent to municipalities only in such quantities as can be given out with certainty within five days. Vaccines are given by appointment. Times can be made available for booking when the quantities of vaccines distributed are known," Head of HUS-Pharmacy Kerstin Carlsson said.

According to HUS, its pharmacy had a total of 12,480 doses of the vaccine on Wednesday, 20 January. Since then, thousands of doses have been and will be delivered to municipalities before the end of this week. Deliveries to municipalities of 13,000 vaccine doses are planned for next week.

HUS says vaccine deliveries have also been affected by updated guidelines. Initially, instructions were given to reserve booster vaccines in freezers to ensure an adequate supply for use three weeks after a first vaccination. This guideline was changed on 7 January 2021, stating that there was no need to reserve another dose of the vaccine for booster vaccinations.

TYKS: nothing new, nothing unusual

Turku University Hospital has also filed a reply to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. According to Mikko Pietilä, Chief Medical Officer of the Hospital District of Southwest Finland, the vaccines have been used correctly in the district, and a review did not uncover any vaccine not yet distributed.

"Our review did not reveal anything new or unusual. The request for clarification concerned the entire area of special responsibility, that is, in addition to Southwest Finland, Satakunta, Ostrobothnia and in part also the province of Åland. My own assessment is that all of these areas have quite good, systematic plans for how existing vaccine stocks are used," Pietilä said.

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