TALLINN - According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Estonia is not expected to experience a high incidence of A/H1N1 swine flu this season. It is however believed that the country will experience a new outbreak of influenza, and for this there is as yet no vaccine in place.
Even as officials continue their search for an H1N1 vaccine, the belief is that this strain of flu is not more dangerous than the other seasonal viruses. “In order to obtain the vaccine, we turned to Germany, Holland, and the manufacturers of pharmaceuticals. They are all ready to help support Estonia,” said Minister of Social Affairs Hanno Pevkur.
According to the head of the Healthcare Department at the Ministry of Social Affairs Ivi Normet, the hope is to clarify the term of delivery of the vaccine with suppliers as soon as possible. Normet says that the initial planning is to purchase 200,000 doses.
Estonian doctors sent an open letter in which they accused the ministry of delaying the process of acquiring the vaccine. They say the ministry is stalling with ordering the vaccine, which may lead to serious problems for the country. Normet noted that the state had very little time to prepare, because the vaccine against this strain in Europe only became available at the end of September, adding that “If the situation concerning the swine flu becomes more difficult, then we are ready to fight.”
The anti-virus is needed in the most severe cases, say experts. Normet explains that Estonia now has reserves sufficient to treat 10,000 people, that each year several thousand people suffer from the flu, and that the number of deaths usually reaches about 30 to 60 per year.
Ministry of Social Affairs spokeswoman Marge Sassi said that the ministry has not stalled with the ordering of the vaccine and negotiations with the producer would be completed within a week. “We’ve been negotiating with the manufacturers ever since the pandemic was announced,” Sassi explained.
Sassi said the manufacturer told the ministry that countries without a pre-purchasing contract might not get the A/H1N1 vaccine at all, but then back-tracked and announced that the earliest deadline for the arrival of the swine flu vaccine would be March. The ministry questions the effectiveness of receiving the vaccine at that time, as the epidemic could already be over. The ministry has been looking for alternative solutions to get the vaccine and make it available this year,” said Sassi.
The intended initial 200,000 doses would be made available to high-risk parts of the population. After long debate on Nov. 19, the government made the decision to allocate 20 million kroons (1.2 million euros) for this initial purchase.
Dr. Matti Maimets, head of the Infection Control Department at Tartu University Hospital, declared that the swine flu epidemic is most likely to reach Estonia in January and would last for three months. He says the epidemic should reach its peak in February. According to his evaluation, around 500 – 1000 people in Estonia could die of the flu due to the lack of the vaccine.
Besides state-level work to acquire the vaccine, politicians are also working with their European colleagues in making its arrival as soon as possible at the retail level. Statistics Estonia shows that mainly people between the ages of 10 to 39 have fallen seriously ill. Most of the cases so far have been in Tallinn, and most of those fallen ill have been women.