Poland woke up this April Fool’s day to panicky attempts by the government at damage control, after the national system of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations opened up for people aged 40-59, only to shut down almost immediately because of a “system error”.
The opening of the system late on Wednesday appeared accidental, as the government did not announce anything in advance. Meanwhile, the word spread on social media throughout the night that one could get a vaccination appointment in just days.
Indeed, upon logging in to my patient’s account – many Poles have one as part of the state’s system of digitalizing services – it was possible for this reporter to register for a jab in Warsaw as soon as early next week.
That, however, stood in contradiction to the government’s own message from only a few days before. To speed up the flattening of the curve of new cases, the government announced on March 30 that it was going to speed up its vaccination programme from April on.
Specifically, the government said, Poland would open registrations to people born in 1962 on April 12. Each subsequent cohort – born in 1963, 1964 and so on until 1973 – would be asked to register in the following days until April 24. Younger people would be able to register in May, the government said, adding that it was hoping to get all willing Poles vaccinated by August.
However, people logging in to their patient accounts – for example to check out their coronavirus test results – also discovered they were able to register for an inoculation right after midnight on April 1, even if they were only 40.
As the news spread, the government maintained on the morning of April 1 that the opening of the system was planned.
“[Vaccination] registrations for people over 60 have slowed down and [we opened] registrations for people aged 40 through 60,” Michal Dworczyk, the government’s minister coordinating the vaccination effort, told private radio RMF FM.
The same message came from the official Twitter account of the government’s vaccination programme and from the spokesman of the health ministry.
All stood in contrast to silence from Health Minister Adam Niedzielski himself and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
As the news spread, however, the government realized that hundreds of thousands were now getting jab dates way ahead of the official schedule.
“Some people from the 40-59 age group registered for April vaccination dates due to an error. Because of that, I am suspending registration temporarily, for which I apologise. Younger people must not be vaccinated before seniors," Dworczyk said.
All those aged 40-59 who have managed to register for April will be rescheduled for the second half of May, Dworczyk said.
The April Fool’s chaos comes in the context of the general pick up in the speed of vaccinations in Poland.
The country expects to receive 5mn-7mn vaccine doses in April. In order to effectively administer the jabs, the government will increase the number of vaccination points to cover not just hospitals but also pharmacies, community centres, or large companies.
Poland's United Right government has long come under criticism for poor communication on the fight against the pandemic, which has led to 53,665 deaths since March 2020.
Only on April 1, 35,251 new infections were recorded; 621 people died in one of the highest death tolls since the start of the pandemic.