Coronavirus vaccinations could start at the turn of January-February, says health minister

Illustrative photo: Jernej Furman, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The Czech Republic could begin the coronavirus vaccination process sometime around the turn of January-February 2021, Health Minister Jan Blatný told the lower-house of Parliament on Tuesday. In an ideal scenario, 70 to 80 percent of the population should be inoculated, he said. However, a recent survey showed that the majority of the public does not want the vaccine.

On Tuesday, Czech Minister of Health Jan Blatný told the Chamber of Deputies that the Czech Republic will likely receive its first vaccine deliveries around the turn of January to February. The vaccines have already been produced, but need to be approved by the European Medicine Agency (EMA) before use, something he expects to happen during the first half of January.

The EMA is currently in the process of reviewing Janssen’s Ad26.COV2.S vaccine and has received the application for conditional marketing authorisation from Moderna and for the BioNTech and Pfizer developed vaccine.

The Czech health minister said he would ideally like to see 70 to 80 percent of the population receive the vaccine and that the cost of vaccination will be covered by public health insurance. Legislation to make the mass vaccination possible has to first be passed through Parliament. The lower-house is set to debate the subject on Friday.

The exact strategy on how the vaccination process will operate is expected to be presented to the government next Monday. Some vaccines require special conditions for their storage which could complicate the process. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, needs to be stored at a temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Petr Šonka,  photo: Jana Přinosilová / Czech Radio

However, the chairman of the Association of General Practitioners, Petr Šonka, told Czech Television that GPs will undertake the majority of inoculations.

“General practitioners will be involved in the strategy. It is impossible to vaccinate such a large number of people in a short amount of time without their input.

“However, it is likely that some sort of combined strategy will be implemented, because some vaccines cannot be kept under normal conditions.

“Based on the information I have seen around 3.5 million people will receive the vaccine from general practitioners.

A possible complication in reaching the desired vaccination numbers could be distrust among parts of the public to the vaccines. A poll conducted by National Pandemic Alarm at the turn of October to November showed that the majority of respondents, some 46 percent, do not want to be inoculated. Just 36 percent said that they plan on taking the vaccine with close to one fifth of the population saying that they are not yet sure.

Health Minister Blatný said last week that the ministry is preparing an information campaign that will seek to debunk some of the myths around vaccines and appear on billboards, television screens and social media.

However, some experts have noted that such a campaign should have been launched sooner.