“We are currently working with what we have and with what we are counting on to get 100%,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša at the presentation of the vaccination strategy, adding that the Slovenian government adopted the vaccination strategy in early December, so they knew how to act when the vaccine arrived. “The measures were coordinated at a European level. Slovenia used joint European orders in its procurement. The strategy that has been adopted is being implemented and the vaccination plan is based on this strategy, which is formed when it comes to priority groups in vaccination, based on joint recommendations of the European Commission, which were developed with our cooperation,” explained the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister Janez Janša and the director of the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) Milan Krek presented a plan for vaccination against coronavirus for the first half of this year in Brdo near Kranj today. Meanwhile, in some places, priority groups have already started to be vaccinated outside homes for the elderly, and the first doses of Moderna vaccine have arrived in Slovenia. At the end of last week, Prime Minister Janša, who is also temporarily acting Minister of Health, announced that the vaccination project had been fully taken over by the NIJZ. The latter also performs all vaccinations, regulates logistics, and provides refrigeration capacity. According to the plans known so far, 1.2 million people should be vaccinated with three or four types of vaccines by the end of July and August, respectively.
Vaccination started today at the Gospodarsko razstavišče in Ljubljana. First, those who belong to the priority group who have registered with a personal doctor and who were also encouraged to be vaccinated by their doctor will be vaccinated, the Ljubljana Health Center announced. According to the latest announcements of the Ministry of Health, between 10,000 and 12,000 doses of the vaccine will be intended for the vaccination of the elderly who do not live in homes this week. According to the authorities, the vaccination is running smoothly, up to and including Sunday, 20,546 people were recorded in the electronic vaccination register who were vaccinated with the first dose of Pfizer vaccine. They are already preparing for vaccination with the second dose, which, according to the announcements of the Minister of Labour Janez Cigler Kralj will follow within 21 days of the first vaccination or will start on January 18th in nursing homes.
Approved vaccines for 1.1 million Slovenians
Regarding vaccines that have been ordered and approved for Slovenia, Prime Minister Janez Janša said that these are quantities of vaccines that have been ordered and confirmed and will be obtained on the basis of a contractual relationship: “Pfizer’s vaccine, which was approved first and is being used, the quantity is as we have it and is once again greater than planned. Slovenia competed for a million doses, but it received a few less, a few over 900 thousand. On Friday, we tried to get a million more doses, we got a little less than 900 thousand. This is the total amount of vaccine already in use and most of the vaccination plan is based on the supply of this vaccine.” When it comes to Moderna vaccine, however, it must be said that it is an American company and when the European Commission decided to order it, it was exposed to doubts. Janša explained that the US administration publicly announced last year that US companies would only export vaccines when domestic needs were met. As a result, the European Commission ordered relatively small amount of the second approved vaccine. “The basic dilemmas, which do not relate so much to the higher price, but to the delivery times. This is the main disruptive factor in ordering additional quantities as delivery times are not guaranteed,” said the Prime Minister. He also said they have ordered another 100,000 doses of this vaccine in recent days, but have no guarantee other than that it would be delivered by the end of the year. “For the first quantity, we have slightly more precise announcements of deliveries, but they are not 100% and they need to be taken with a reserve. Of the two vaccines already approved in the EU, we have over two million doses available this year. That is enough to vaccinate 1.1 million people,” said Janša.
Slovenia ordered several vaccines
There are three more vaccines that have also been ordered for Slovenia but do not yet have the approval of the European Medical Agency. The most promising vaccine is from AstraZeneca, which has the largest production capacity in Europe. The European Commission has mostly ordered this vaccine, and Slovenia will receive a proportional share of 1.4 million doses. As there have been some complications in testing the vaccine, the process of approving this vaccine has been delayed and the European Medical Agency has received an application for approval of this vaccine only today. We also have our share of the other two vaccines ordered by the EU, an additional two million doses. However, neither of them are in the process of approval. “Slovenia has ordered several vaccines, as it is good to have reserves, we do not even know how long the immunity will last after vaccination. It is concluded that probably a maximum of 6 months, which means that vaccination will have to be repeated in the fall. Therefore, Slovenia will continue to look for possible deliveries from producers,” explained Janša.
Vaccines are of very high quality
For a start, dr. Milan Krek wished a nice and healthy year and that everyone would get vaccinated. He began with an important message that we are the first generation to be able to get an answer to the epidemic so quickly. Epidemics have accompanied humanity from time immemorial and have been very severe. “For example, the plague killed an extremely large number of Europeans in the Middle Ages, but you may or may not know that vinegar has been poured on salads ever since. Then many preventive measures were always organised, such as hand washing. Hand washing was a key measure in preventing faecal-oral infections. We have already eradicated some diseases using vaccines, such as smallpox. And even today we are facing an epidemic, a virus. We have developed modern vaccines. I would like to emphasise that, when we get vaccinated, the measures are still in force and, of course, they must be respected. In order to have as little infection rate among the population as possible,” said Krek, explaining that the vaccines produced today are safe. Because the laws are very clear, both national and international. “Vaccines today are safe, a lot of laws and protocols have to be followed. The vaccine can only be used with the permission of the agency; the vaccine is then monitored for another two years to ensure the highest quality of the vaccine. So these vaccines that we get in our country are actually of very high quality. There are a number of experts behind them and they need to be trusted,” he said.
In the beginning, there is always a problem with quantities that are too little, the number of doses is limited, Krek pointed out, so the most endangered and most exposed are protected first. The network of vaccination sites in Slovenia is good, it has existed in Slovenia for about ten years and is being upgraded. It is important that for certain vaccines, exactly as many vaccines are sent as will be used. It is a very complex and extensive project to properly carry out the entire vaccination. Serious side effects are addressed by a special group, which then decides how and what. The risk of this disease is higher in the elderly, so they have a priority in vaccination, the same is true for some chronic patients. We want to reduce mortality and complications in the more severe course of the disease.
First, we vaccinated nursing home occupants, then health workers and associates, since it is very important that we have as many healthy health workers as possible, Krek added. Because at the moment, we need them both to treat covid and to perform vaccination. Then there are different age groups, followed by chronic patients who have cancer, diabetes or chronic disease, and are also more at risk of poor outcome. Then we start with all the other emergency services that are important for the functioning of society. In the end, everyone else. The distribution of the vaccine will also take into account the burden of infection on individual regions, in order to help those who are now in great need to calm down the situation as soon as possible.
We want at least 70% of population to be vaccinated
“Then we have the question of whether people who have survived covid should be vaccinated or not. At this point, the expert group decided not to vaccinate them until 6 months after recovering from covid. They will still have their own immune response, and we will give the valuable vaccine, which we do not have enough of at the moment, to those who are at risk and have not yet fallen ill,” explained the NIJZ director, adding: “We want the vaccination rate to be at least 70 percent of population, maybe more, but 70 would already be great.” Vaccination is carried out in vaccination centres, where all the necessary equipment is available. Doctors also invite people over the age of 80 to come and get vaccinated. It is also recommended that the elderly be vaccinated at home, which will be easier with some vaccines that are just coming to Slovenia. Work is underway to give each family doctor ten units of vaccine to vaccinate his/her patients, and then to receive vaccines proportionately with each supply. Krek also explained that after vaccination with Pfizer, we already have such a good protection after only 10 days that the disease would not show in a more severe form anymore.
One of the questions was how to get vaccinated
If you belong to a high-risk group, you are on the register of treating physician who provide the vaccine. However, doctors will also call elderly patients and invite them for vaccinations. This vaccination should be planned because vaccination must also be done within four days. If patients do not come, there are recommendations or instructions to use the vaccine with someone else. If you do not belong to a high-risk group, you can enter data into the application, which puts you in a queue.
“But do not expect to receive an invitation already tomorrow when you sign up in the application,” warned Janez Janša, first high-risk groups need to be vaccinated. The supply of vaccines will not yet take into account the regional key or the epidemiological picture by region. When asked about the critical infrastructure, Janša said that it would probably not be its turn this month, more likely that it would be in February. Separation by sectors will also need to be done within the infrastructure. When asked about the procedure doctors call patients, Krek answered that they all received letters with instructions, however, on how the doctor will choose the order will depend a lot on the doctor. The doctor knows their patients best, and know best who to call first. Many have already made lists and started calling, said the Prime Minister.
“Finally, I would like to invite you and everyone else to the vaccination. For only in this way will we control this epidemic, with both types of action. That is, with non-pharmacological and with those pharmacological, such as vaccine. So that we can be happier in the summer and autumn,” concluded dr. Milan Krek and Health Minister Janez Janša.