WARSAW (Reuters) -Polish health care was plunged into confusion on Thursday after a surprise overnight decision to widen eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines triggered the crash of an online registration system, just as new infections soared to a new daily high.
The incident left Polish doctors temporarily unable to prescribe drugs for non-coronavirus ailments, immunologist Pawel Grzesiowski told Reuters.
It played out against the backdrop of a health service stretched to its limits by spiralling coronavirus case numbers that have left hospitals in some Polish regions on the brink of running out of ventilators.
Poland reported a fresh 24-hour record of 35,251 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.
The outage of the online registration system left doctors wondering if they had to postpone scheduled vaccinations, and wrongfooted people who had rushed to take advantage of an extension of eligibility to everyone over 40.
“These people already have appointments and now they hear in the media that these dates will be changed,” said Grzesiowski.
“There is colossal chaos, but also frustration, because people want to be vaccinated…, and now they hear that they will not get it.” People in Poland and many other European Union nations have been exasperated by a slow roll-out of vaccines.
Faced with a public outcry, the prime minister’s top aide, who is in charge of vaccinations, apologised for the system crash. “We should have communicated better about the system failure,” Michal Dworczyk told reporters.
“Unfortunately…that didn’t happen, apologies are in order and in the space of a few hours the system will return to being fully functional.”
Dworczyk also said that people in their 40s had mistakenly been given appointments in April. He said that they would be offered appointments in May instead.
He had earlier said people aged 40-60 who had declared their readiness to be vaccinated had been sent referrals overnight due to slowing rates of registration among the over 60s.
Robert Biedron, a politician from the opposition Left grouping, was among many who expressed their dismay.
“That feeling when you think it’s April Fools, but it’s just another day of PiS in power,” he wrote on Twitter, referring to the ruling conservative nationalist Law and Justice party.
Having introduced further restrictions to limit the spread of the virus in March, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday the state’s support scheme for the economy would be raised by around 30 billion zlotys ($7.63 billion).
More than 2 million of Poland’s 38 million people have received two doses of vaccine to date.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Agnieszka Barteczko, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Joanna Plucinska, Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Koper; Editing by Mark Heinrich)