If it’s summer time,
going to the woods,
who you gonna call?

It’s one of those rainy mornings of your (typical) summer in Helsinki: cold, wet, dark, and not very summery. But we are riding along in a very special car. It’s a van with a mission: the girls who drive it are out to prevent evil bugs from spoiling your summer, and perhaps your life and your beloved’s.

Hello. Who are you girls?
My name is Satu Kauppinen, and my colleague here is Tiina Kauppinen. We are not related (laughs).

What are we riding on?
This is a vaccination van. We vaccinate people against hepatitis, diphtheria, and other diseases. And also those who may be at risk of being bitten by ticks (if they are going into the countryside, for example). We park the van at pre-arranged locations, and people come to us to get the shots.

Is this a private or a municipal service?
It’s a private company (Suomen Rokotepalvelu Oy) and we are employees. One of the owners, Doctor Jukka Vakkila, is licensed to provide this service.

How do you choose the locations where you park? And how do people know beforehand?
Dr. Jukka and Leena Valo, our marketing person, design the timetables for us and publish them in our website and in local newspapers. We also distribute leaflets.

How did you girls get this job?
Satu: I am a nurse. I work at the Children’s Clinic (Lastenklinikka) and I’ve known Jukka for more than fifteen years. When he asked me to join the team I said yes. This is a summer job for me.

Tiina: I have also worked as a nurse at the Mehiläinen Clinic and the Children’s Clinic, where I met Dr. Jukka. He asked me to join last summer.

This is a summer job because in winter ticks are not a threat, right?

What happens if someone comes to you with a tick attached?
Our role is only preventive vaccination, so we send them right away to the health center (terveyskeskus) where they have special instruments to remove it safely. Otherwise there’s a risk that bits of it will remain and develop an infection. We can check (and in fact we do it a lot) the bite to determine whether it’s a tick bite or something else. If it’s indeed a tick, people need to get to their medical center immediately.

What diseases can a parasite (punkki) carry?
Parasites can carry both a virus (TBE, tick-borne encephalitis) and a bacteria (Borreliosis). Encephalitis is an infection of the nervous system, very dangerous and sometimes deadly -it’s incurable once it manifests- but preemptive vaccination is very effective. Borreliosis or Lyme disease is complex on another level, because diagnosis and treatment are still being investigated and developed. So the shot we give is only against TBE, and not against Borreliosis.

How do you know you’ve got Borreliosis?
About one or two weeks after the bite a red ring appears around the area where the parasite was lodged, but not always. It could be that the ring doesn’t show up at all and other symptoms (coughing, fever) are indicating contagion. So it’s necessary to make a blood analysis to be completely sure.

So there’s no vaccine to prevent it?
No. Currently it’s treated with antibiotics, if discovered early.

Is it possible that the bug carried nothing and you are safe?
Yes, that is possible as well.

It would be handy if they came color-coded.
Yes (they laugh), that would be very useful.

What happens if one of you can’t come to work? The other goes alone?
No, we always go in pairs. It’s better that way.

There’s a possibility of allergic reaction to a vaccine. If a person gets into shock because of that, it’s safer for everybody to have two people available.

Did you ever had one of those?
Nothing so far (they knock on wood).

A customer comes in; the girls move about in the limited space of the van with the efficiency and confidence of Kimi Raikkonen’s pit-crew swapping tires on the Ferrari; in a few moments the procedure is promptly finished.

Are there any symptoms after the vaccination?
A little local pain, maybe. Nothing more.

(to the recently punctured customer) Did it hurt? Why did you decide to take the shot?
No, it didn’t hurt. We are going to the Åland islands (Ahvenanmaa) for the summer; we will ride horses and be in the forest, so I thought of protecting myself beforehand.

(back to the girls)
Why would people choose this service instead of going to a health center or a private clinic?
Well, first you would need to make an appointment with a doctor to get a prescription, then go to the pharmacy to physically buy the vaccine, then make another appointment with the nurse to get the shot. With us, you come here and get it done in ten minutes, easier and cheaper.

What are the price differences?
We charge 50eu in total. Others charge 65eu, or 15eu for the shot if you bring the vaccine with you (which costs about 44eu). And also, for every shot given we contribute a percentage to UNICEF, who provides vaccination to children against the measles in African countries.

How old is the company? And how many cars are out there?
The company is six years old, and we have two vans. This one operates in Uusimaa and Kotka, and the other one in Itä-Suomi.

You are the ones on the field, have you seen many changes in procedure in six years?
Satu: Oh, definitely; it’s an ongoing process. And we are the ones who see everything; what works and what doesn’t, what can be done better…

Tiina: We usually have very good meetings in autumn; we discuss what happened during the season, offer new ideas, and improve the service.

Are you the only vaccination-vans company in town?
No, there is another company. But we are better (laughs).

Why do you think so? What’s your edge?
Satu: We are prettier (they both laugh). And more experienced.

Tiina: We are pediatric nurses, so have a lot of experience dealing with children. Vaccinating a child is not the same as vaccinating an adult; you need to understand the little ones, and go down to their level, so to speak.

Satu: You need to be an adult and a child at the same time.

Tiina: Yeah. We know how to do that, and people value it.

This is the company’s website (with timetables).