Prime Minister Janez Janša, who is also the acting Minister of Health, and National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) director Milan Krek gave a detailed presentation of the public vaccination programme planned for the first half of the year at a press conference today.
As the Prime Minister emphasised, vaccination measures have been coordinated at the European level. “Slovenia has secured supplies of vaccines as part of joint European orders and the strategy is being implemented as adopted. The planned vaccination programme, which will be presented by NIJZ director Milan Krek, is based on this strategy. Regarding priority groups for vaccination, the strategy has been designed on the basis of the joint recommendations of the European Commission, which were formulated with our input,” began the Prime Minister.
Regarding the table showing priority groups, the Prime Minister pointed out that the numbers are sum totals and do not represent, as interpreted by some parts of the media at the end of last year, the actual number of people, because some categories are duplicated. “Elderly people have chronic illnesses, so some people are counted twice, with the result that the figure is 30% higher,” said the Prime Minister.
He went on to say that the information we have most been waiting for is that vaccines have been ordered and already approved for Slovenia. “Approved not only in the sense that they have received the authorisation of the European Medicines Agency, but also that the quantities we have ordered have been confirmed and will be supplied, because they are part of the contract,” continued the Prime Minister, adding that in the case of the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first to be approved and which we are already using, the quantity we have guaranteed is twice as high as the original quantity. “Slovenia put in an application for a million doses and got 900,000. On Friday we tried to obtain a further million doses and got just under 900,000. In other words, this is the total quantity of this vaccine, which is already being used and which for the time being, as regards deliveries, is also the most promising, because the bulk of the vaccination programme is based on deliveries of this vaccine,” said the Prime Minister.
Regarding the Moderna vaccine, the Prime Minister pointed out that this is a US company and that the European Commission was in some doubt when deciding to order this vaccine because the US administration announced publicly last year that US companies will only be able to export this vaccine once domestic needs have been met. “For this reason the European Commission has ordered a relatively small quantity of this vaccine, which was the second to be approved and which in recent weeks and days has created additional expectations as a result of information published in certain media,” the Prime Minister explained, adding that the price of the Moderna vaccine is higher, which is not a problem. “The main problem with ordering additional quantities is that the delivery dates are not guaranteed,” he said. “Nevertheless, in recent days we have ordered a further 100,000 doses, although we do not have a guaranteed delivery date, except that delivery is expected to take place before the end of the year.”
“In total, of the two vaccines already approved in Europe, we have more than two million doses available this year, which is enough to vaccinate 1,100,000 people. A further three vaccines also ordered for Slovenia have not yet received the approval of the European Medicines Agency. The most promising vaccine, from the company with the highest production capacities in Europe, is the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the European Commission has also ordered the largest quantity of this. Slovenia has secured a proportionate share, in the amount of around 1,400,000 doses, but since there have been certain complications regarding the testing of this vaccine, the approval process has taken longer than expected and only today has the European Medicines Agency received a request to approve this vaccine,” the Prime Minister said.
The Prime Minister added that he has spoken to the head of the European pandemic crisis response centre, who has promised more precise data regarding deliveries. “In principle, the deliveries of this vaccine announced last year have merely been postponed. In other words, the quantities that were announced for December, if the vaccine had been approved in November, have simply been moved to February,” explained the Prime Minister, adding that this time frame was merely “indicative”.
Regarding two other vaccines which the European Commission has ordered and where Slovenia’s share amounts to a further two million doses, the Prime Minister explained that “neither of these vaccines has yet received approval, nor have they begun the approval process at the European Medicines Agency.”
“For the announced deliveries of the two vaccines that have already been approved and where deliveries are already under way, and for AstraZeneca, where deliveries have been announced, in some cases we also have more exact month-by-month schedules, but since there are asterisks everywhere, in other words nothing is 100% confirmed, we are counting on these forecasts becoming clearer over a three-month period, that is to say, for the first and second quarters,” the Prime Minister said.
NIJZ director Milan Krek presented the delivery data on the basis of which the vaccination programme has been planned. “As soon as we have more accurate data that we can rely on regarding deliveries of third vaccine, i.e. the AstraZeneca vaccine, where we should receive large quantities very quickly, we will update this programme, but for the time being we are working with what we have and what we can 100% count on getting,” emphasised the Prime Minister, adding that there is a question mark over the 100,000 additional doses ordered from Moderna because, as already mentioned, there is no firm information on when this delivery is going to take place. “It largely depends on when this company receives authorisation to sell its vaccine outside the US, but delivery is guaranteed over the course of the current year.”
“If anyone is wondering why we have ordered more vaccines than we need, given the size of the population, one of the reasons is that in the case of those vaccines that have not yet been approved, they are not yet a concrete reality and it is important to have something in reserve. The other factor is that we do not know how long immunity lasts following vaccination. It is expected to last at least six months, so we can reckon on those who are receiving the vaccine now having to be vaccinated again in the autumn or at the end of the year if we want to definitively halt the epidemic, so Slovenia will continue to participate in joint orders in the future while also seeking its own supplies through contacts with manufacturers,” said the Prime Minister, adding that being part of European orders is an advantage for Slovenia at this moment, “since by taking part in these deliveries we have undoubtedly obtained larger quantities of vaccines than we would have otherwise, and at a lower price because the orders were for larger quantities.”
“Some people are asking why we haven’t negotiated directly, like Israel. I have spoken directly to the Israeli Prime Minister about the Israeli negotiations, but Slovenia is not Israel and for us it is a big problem even to order a cargo aircraft to transport medical equipment or vaccines from another country, while the Constitutional Court is blocking the law that would enable us to do that,” concluded the Prime Minister.
When taking questions from journalists, the Prime Minister preferred not to make any specific announcements regarding the application of a differential regional factor in the vaccination programme, since “at the moment we are unfortunately not seeing a trend in which things are going significantly better in some regions than the average, and the average is not good.” According to the Prime Minister, this will delay the application of the regional factor. He added that given the quantity of vaccines currently available, those working in critical infrastructure will not receive the vaccine this month but he is counting on this happening in February.
With reference to the instruction given to general practitioners regarding the vaccination of elderly patients in terms of who should receive the vaccine first, the Prime Minister said that only doctors know the micro picture among their patients and it is they who make a selection on the basis of who is at the greatest risk, meaning that first they call those who are most exposed to risk. “The majority of general practitioners have already drawn up lists, and many are still working on them. They are already calling patients. I myself know cases of people being called in to receive the vaccine, so this is something that is happening,” said the Prime Minister.
Regarding vaccines from different manufacturers, he said that deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine were reliable. “The right quantity of vaccine arrives on the day it is supposed to arrive. Our experiences here have been good and we are sticking to the week-by-week plan up to February, which makes accurate planning possible. How things are with the other manufacturers, we will see when we receive the vaccines.” He went on to say that there are 150 countries in the world looking for vaccines at the same time, but production capacities are what they are and making promises for this month would mean making empty promises, although “with every new manufacturer who gets approval for a vaccine, new possibilities open up. For as long as demand is greater than supply, we will continue to look for additional possibilities, both within joint orders and outside them.”
Regarding the organisation of vaccination, the Prime Minister explained that in Slovenia, since vaccination began, this is the responsibility of the NIJZ, while as regards deliveries of vaccines, this takes place via the Ministry of Health, “because we are cooperating as a body within European orders and Europe-wide networks.” “As regards coordination, there are several groups in which experts from both the NIJZ and the Ministry are involved,” said the Prime Minister, rejecting allegations that any group at the Ministry had been dissolved. “Nothing has been dissolved, and if anything cooperation has been strengthened,” he added.
In reference to the Greek Prime Minister’s proposal of a COVID-19 vaccination passport, the Prime Minister said that as regards placing conditions on travel, particularly air travel, and crossing borders, “it seems to me that this is the reality that we are facing.” “It will probably be difficult to travel normally from country to country or from airport to airport without a vaccination passport,” he said, adding that discussions about this have been taking place at various levels for at least a month. “Some countries have already had similar ideas at a regional level and each country has to regulate this for itself, but this is something that will happen and we must be ready for it,” said the Prime Minister, noting that at the moment the Government is investing all its efforts into ensuring that we get as much vaccine as possible, as soon as possible.
“For the time being we have significantly fewer doses of vaccine than people we wish to vaccinate, and the problem is similar all over Europe. But vaccination campaigns have been prepared at both the national and European levels,” said the Prime Minister in response to a question about whether vaccination campaigns have already been prepared.