Czech vaccine drive in chaos as ministry recommends first-dose halt

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic’s coronavirus vaccination drive was in chaos on Wednesday after the Health Ministry called for a two-week halt to new vaccinations amid a supply shortage, only to be rebuked by Prime Minister Andrej Babis and the health minister.

FILE PHOTO: A member of a mobile vaccination team prepares a shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the Home of Holy Family, for people with mental disabilities of welfare organisation Caritas, in Prague, Czech Republic, January 13, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny

The ministry recommended regional health officials halt new COVID-19 vaccinations for two weeks to prioritise second doses due to concern about delivery delays.

The Czech Republic, like other European countries, has complained about cuts and delays in deliveries of vaccines made by the United States’ Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

The ministry spokeswoman said the decision was made in view of the number of people requiring the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and the reduced supply. Regional coordinators remain responsible for assessing the situation in their regions, she said.

“The Health Ministry recommends interrupting first-dose vaccinations and suspending reservations for such vaccinations for 14 days,” the spokeswoman said.

But Health Minister Jan Blatny later said on Czech Television shortages were not such that first doses had to be stopped altogether.

“We recommend to regional coordinators that it is not suitable to postpone the second dose for more than 28 days. That may consecutively lead to a limitation of appointments for the first dose,” he said.

Local media reported a number of senior citizens over 80, who are now eligible for the shot as a priority group, had their dates cancelled, and some due for the second shot had appointments postponed to 28 days after the first dose, from 21 days.

Babis blamed individual vaccination centres for the trouble.

“This (health ministry instruction) was unnecessary.... The vaccination centres need to deal with this themselves, they know how many vaccines they are getting,” he said.

The country of 10.7 million has inoculated more than 222,000 people, and over 17,000 have already received a second dose, health ministry data as of Tuesday showed.

The Czech Republic has recorded 956,155 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic first hit in March.

It has been one of the worst-hit countries globally, with a high rate of infections during the second wave, and 15,453 deaths.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet, editing by Louise Heavens and Ed Osmond