Slovenia to have 5% of population vaccinated by month’s end

Ljubljana – Slovenia currently has 2% of its population vaccinated against coronavirus and if the supply of vaccines continues at current pace, 5% of the population could be vaccinated by the end of the month, said Marta Grgič Vitek, the coordinator of the vaccination programme at the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ).

The vaccination of people older than 80 continues throughout the country today, including in Ljubljana and Ajdovščina. In some towns, like Kranj and Nova Gorica, new batches of the vaccine have not arrived yet and are expected on Thursday.

In Ljubljana, where vaccination is being carried out in the morning and rapid testing in the afternoon at the main fairgrounds, 4,000 shots by three different producers are available this week, Uroš Zafošnik, the local coordinator, said yesterday.

Until 7 February, almost 55,000 people received the first shot of vaccine, which is 2.6% of the population, and almost 43,000 the second, which is 2% of the citizens.

So far, a total of 108,000 vaccine doses have been distributed and another 136,100 doses are to be supplied this month.

Apart from the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine is also being distributed today. Prime Minister Janez Janša tweeted that Slovenia will use any coronavirus vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency, “including Russian, Indian and Chinese” vaccines.

Currently, the recommendation is that mRNA vaccines, meaning the former two vaccines, are used for those older than 80, while others can also receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. The latter is recommended for inoculation of bedridden persons at their homes, as unlike the mRNA vaccines it is more stable and thus easier to transport.

When all those over 80 who have expressed interest in the vaccination will be inoculated, those over 75 years old will follow and then those over 70 and the particularly vulnerable patients with chronic diseases regardless of their age.

According to Grgič Vitek, the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca is recommended for people aged between 18 and 64, as there is not enough data on its efficiency in older people.

The second shot is to be administered after nine to 12 weeks, which is longer than with mRNA vaccines.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is to be used for health workers who have not been inoculated yet, for institutionalised persons who have not been vaccinated yet, for special schools staff and children, and for particularly vulnerable chronic patients under 65.

These will be followed by other chronic patients and then those working in key infrastructure.

Grgič Vitek could not say when healthy adults could expect to get vaccinated. “We don’t know what the demand and supply will be,” she said.

She expects those over 80 to be vaccinated by the end of the month, while vulnerable chronic patients could be inoculated in April.

The priority groups among employees in key infrastructure will be adjusted to the type and quantity of the vaccines supplied. “We believe teachers and employees in education should be a priority, while we will ask the government and other bodies to decide who else they consider to be the most important for the functioning of the country,” said the NIJZ official.

Meanwhile, it is not clear yet whether the vaccines also prevent transmission of infection. “An expert recommendation is that once a person is inoculated, meaning a week after the second shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, two weeks after the second shot of the Moderna vaccine and three weeks after the first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, no testing is required for the next three months.”

For now, this applies only to medical staff but the rules should also be set for others, Grgič Vitek said.

Until the end of this week, more than a thousand cases of side effects following vaccination have been entered into the NIJZ registry. Most, 1,064 cases referred to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine of which some 96,000 shots have been administered.

Five cases referred to the Moderna vaccine of which just over 8,000 shots have been distributed.

In most cases, mild side effects are being reported such as pain in the vaccination spot, headaches and dizziness.

Seven cases of serious side effects have been recorded since the end of January. “They were two deaths and five such side effects that required hospital treatment,” Grgič Vitek said, adding the share of serious side effects was lower than with other vaccines.

Meanwhile, the head of the National Institute of Biology, Maja Ravnikar, presented the institute’s research of the virus’s presence in excrement. The institute has been testing samples from several sewage treatment plants across the country covering 600,000 people for months as part of a pilot project.

The results so far show that the amount of the new coronavirus in waste waters matches the number of active cases detected in tests. The last increase in the amount of virus was detected in January and now it has been decreasing for a while, Ravnikar told the press today.

“By analysing waste waters we are monitoring the entire population, meaning also those who have not been tested. This process is very fast, so sometimes we detect a rise in a number of infected people a few days ahead,” she said.

The mutations of the virus can also be detected. Until mid-January the presence of South African or Brazilian strains have not been detected. Some samples have been association with the British variant but in very small quantities.