National vaccine specialists: coronavirus vaccinations must move ahead rapidly and flexibly to protect the elderly

Publication date 21 Jan 2021

The National Vaccine Expert Group (KRAR) set by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) convened on Tuesday, 19 January to discuss the progression of the coronavirus vaccination effort and to iron out details of the order in which people are vaccinated. 

Vaccinating the elderly must move forward alongside vaccinations for professionals

KRAR emphasises that administering the available vaccines must begin as quickly as possible for those over the age of 80 so that the elderly will have a possibility to be protected against serious coronavirus disease.

In accordance with Finland's coronavirus vaccination strategy, coronavirus vaccines are to be offered to the elderly after most intensive care personnel, social and health care employees caring for coronavirus patients, and the residents and personnel of care homes for the elderly have been vaccinated.

At present most members of these groups have been given the vaccine. More than 90 percent of intensive care personnel have been vaccinated as have more than 80 percent of personnel on wards caring for coronavirus patients, those working in emergency rooms, and in consulting rooms for infectious diseases, as well as staff administering coronavirus tests, and laboratory personnel. There is regional variation in the vaccination rates for care homes.

“The elderly are at the greatest risk of getting the serious viral disease, which is why vaccines should be offered to them immediately”, notes KRAR Chair Ville Peltola. “Vaccinations for the elderly need to start even if vaccinations for previous groups have not been completed. To avoid delays, vaccinations of essential social and health care personnel must be given in parallel.”

KRAR also discussed fine-tuning details of the order of the coronavirus vaccinations for high-risk groups. Risk groups involving long-term illnesses of patients under 70 years of age will be defined in greater detail in January when more information becomes available on target groups and age groups linked with the sales licence of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. 

Interval between injections can be fully utilized: no halving of dosage

KRAR recommends that the interval between doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer Comirnaty vaccine should be 21-28 days, and up to a maximum of 42 days for special reasons. The recommendation follows the line taken by the World Health Organisation.

“The interval between doses can be utilised from beginning to end with no deterioration of the effectiveness of the vaccine. It is important not to leave vaccines unused to wait for the second doses; all available vaccines are to be administered, utilising the entire interval between vaccinations, if necessary”, emphasises THL Chief Physician Hanna Nohynek.

KRAR also discussed the size of the dose of the Comirnaty vaccine. KRAR recommends keeping the size of the dose unchanged according to the instructions of the manufacturer.

Information on vaccine dose sizes according to catchment areas on THL website

All vaccines manufactured by BioNTech-Pfizer supplied to Finland will be delivered from the manufacturer directly to the medicine distribution centres

From today the THL situation update will also include information on the number of vaccine doses stored in the catchment areas.

In addition, the page will have statistical data on the number of vaccines administered to be updated daily. The statistics are based on information that sent to the THL National Vaccination Register by actors in social and health care.

A total of about 150,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have arrived in Finland during the coronavirus vaccination period so far. The National Vaccination Register reports that of these, about 62,000 doses have been given to those in the first target groups. According to information from this morning, the medicine distribution centres around Finland have about 42,000 doses of the vaccine in storage. About 46,000 vaccines have either been delivered to the vaccination centres, but have not been administered, or they have been administered without the information reaching the Vaccination Register yet.

On Monday THL also opened a follow-up website for coronavirus vaccinations containing information on the numbers of vaccinated persons according to health care districts and age distribution. The follow-up pages will also have updates on the cumulative number of people who have been vaccinated.

Additional information:

Ville Peltola
Professor, Chair of KRAR
Turku University Hospital

Hanna Nohynek
Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
Chief Physician

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