People queued for vaccine jabs outside the Kallio Municipal Office Building in Helsinki on Tuesday, 7 November 2023. People across Finland have reported difficulty getting an appointment for the newly launched or upcoming round of influenza and coronavirus vaccinations. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

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MIA KONTIO, a chief specialist at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), has responded to criticism about the timing of coronavirus booster vaccinations by arguing that the health care system simply does not have the resources to organise influenza and coronavirus vaccinations separately.

“We definitely don’t have the resources to hold two such massive [vaccination] rounds,” she stated to YLE on Tuesday.

Some well-being services counties started vaccinating people against both the influenza and coronavirus disease recently, despite there being possibly a months-long gap between the epidemic peaks: coronavirus infections have already begun to rise in different parts of the country, while the influenza season is not expected until early next year.

“I’m sure [coronavirus vaccinations] are partly late, there’s no denying that,” admitted Kontio.

“But you have to be realistic about what can be accomplished. Preferably coronavirus vaccinations are administered a bit earlier, but influenza vaccinations preferably won’t be until the turn of the year, so that their effectiveness isn’t on the decline when the influenza epidemic hits. We’re looking for the happy medium.”

The vaccinations are a major endeavour for well-being services counties, which are already pressed for staff, with well over two million jabs to be administered across Finland.

People in different parts of the country have already reported having difficulty booking appointments for the vaccinations. In Helsinki, for example, people without an appointment had to wait for hours to receive the vaccinations on Monday, the first day of the city's vaccination round for high-risk people, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

Kontio pointed out that appointments are in high demand especially at the start of the vaccination round, with “everyone looking to get vaccinated in the first two weeks”.

“It isn’t too unusual that there are no free appointments in the systems,” she said.

THL, she added, is not concerned about the wait times, with the exception of over 80-year-olds and people with serious underlying diseases.

“You could think how to target vaccinations specifically to them. Should there be a quota only for them in the booking system,” she speculated, admitting that the digital systems themselves may pose a problem for some of the oldest people.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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