Ljubljana – Voluntary mass vaccination against Covid-19 started in Slovenia on Sunday, a day after the first 9,750 doses of the vaccine arrived in the country. The first to get vaccinated were elderly at care homes who have not yet been infected, followed by some care home and hospital staff.
Government officials hailed it as a historic day giving hope the end of the epidemic is on the horizon, urging people to get vaccinated to ensure collective immunity.
Science gave us in a record time a miracle gift which brings new hope, said National Institute of Public Health director Milan Krek as he visited a care home.
He said up to 1.2 million people would be gradually vaccinated depending on the the available amount of vaccine until the end of July. This is 60% of the population.
Health Ministry State Secretary Marija Magajne, visiting a care home in Ljubljana, said people older than 80 who are at home could be vaccinated towards the end of January.
March or later is the most likely date for the general population to start being vaccinated, or sooner if vaccines developed by other producers are approved.
Magajne said all care homes received as much vaccine as there was interest among the elderly and a proportionate share for the staff.
A total of 550 doses from the first shipment were meanwhile distributed among hospitals with Covid-19 intensive care units.
The majority of the first shipment was to be used today, and the rest in the coming days when staff return to work.
UKC Maribor, the country’s No. 2 hospital, received 125 doses of vaccine and already vaccinated their medical staff.
UKC Ljubljana, the largest hospital, said on Twitter it would vaccinate 54 staff today, and hoped to receive 1,000 doses in the next 14 days.
The first to get a shot at UKC Ljubljana was Clinic of Infectious Disease head Tatjana Lejko Zupanc, who said: “I hope this is the start of the end of the epidemic.”
While interest among the elderly in getting vaccinated is relatively high, it is lower among care home staff and the general public.
The elderly at care homes were vaccinated first because care homes around the country have been the most severely hit by the coronavirus.
Krek said that 9,000 care home residents had so far been infected, of whom 14% had died.
At the end of 2019, there were around 21,100 elderly citizens at care homes.
The government officials hope today’s safe start of the vaccination, with no complications reported so far, will encourage people to opt for vaccination.
Minister Janez Cigler Kralj, who is in charge of social affairs, visited a care home in Lenart, where retired Maribor Archbishop Franc Kramberger was one of the first three Slovenians highlighted by the government to get vaccinated.
He said the archbishop was willing to take part “to invite all the other citizens to get vaccinated and thus protect their nearest, the most vulnerable, the elderly and also themselves”.
Slovenia received the first shipment of the vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, on Saturday.
It was delivered to UKC Ljubljana and distributed to community health centres, which are in charge of vaccination at care homes.
The next 6,825 doses are expected to arrive next week, with over 16,000 doses expected weekly next year.
PM Janez Janša said as he visited a care home in Maribor should there be no vaccine, we would exit the epidemic as late as April, but now the light at the end of the tunnel was ever brighter.
He said Slovenia’s battle with the virus was additionally hard because of meagre investments in care for the elderly in the past 15 years, so the government will do everything to significantly increase them.
He cautioned the epidemic was not over yet. Until it is, the benefits of the vaccine and rapid tests will have to be combined with the existing restrictive measures.
He hailed as a great success the distribution of the vaccine to all EU member states regardless of their size, saying it confirmed the reasons for the EU’s existence.
He also said the vaccine used today and the one to be approved in early January were a result of scientific efforts and of decision-makers in Europe, and partly the US.
An ageing society, Slovenia has some 424,000 elderly, that is people aged 65 or more, or almost 20% of its population.