Lutsar: Extending interval between vaccine injections could be reasonable

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Head of the government's COVID-19 scientific council Irja Lutsar. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Head of the government's scientific council and virology professor Irja Lutsar said an extension of the interval between two vaccine injections should be considered as it would allow for more people to get vaccinated.

What do you think about Great Britain's decision, as long as there is not enough vaccines, only one injection should be done?

That is not the way I understood it, that they limited themselves to just one injection, they extended the period between the first and the second dose to 12 weeks (instead of the recommended 21 days - ed.). They extended the period. And I know, it is not the Agency of Medicines' (Ravimiamet) recommendation and there is very few daya of it, but I think it is worth a discussion, meaning how can we vaccinate the most people at first. A discussion on the topic should arise.

If we have collected 10,000 doses this week and need around 25,000-30,000 to vaccinate health care workers to take the initial fear off at least hospitals.

Not all health care workers are frontline workers, but many of them are in contact with so-called infected people from the street. If our medicine works, then society will have the confidence that if something were to happen to a person, they will get treatment and that doctors, nurses and caregivers are not sick or isolated. Or even worse, infectious themselves.

Pfizer's research has shown that there is effectiveness from the 12th day. But certainly, those who only got one does, are not represented in the studies. There have been around 300 of those out of a total 20,000 and Pfizer/BioNTech has not monitored those people.

But the Brits said very few get infected even with just the first dose.

Yes, the second dose actually just makes antibodies more efficient. Getting the dose a bit later should not do anything theoretically. If the decision to do so is made, then it should be studied what happens to the people after. It is important that we collect data, that we would be a bit smarter. I hope the Brits do so as well and collect data and make that data available.

Who has to make the decision of taking the risk and doing just one round of injections with the second coming later in Estonia?

It has to be done jointly. The Agency of Medicines first, the immunization expert committee, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Health Board. All experts should convene. The discussion on the topic should be started and at the same time, we can also check if the Brits publicize any data.

We do not know how New Year's Eve went in Estonia. We have Monday's data and there were fewer tests conducted over the period, leading to indicatorrs dropping. But what could the infection indicator be now?

Well, according to professor Krista Fischer's data has [known as the R number] somewhere around one. But the problems are also written into the indicator. Trully, fewer tests were done, sick people likely were still tested but asymptomatic people could have been left untested.

So the truth about New Year's Eve should be clear at the end of this week or the start of next week?

Yes. And as we have noted, infection numbers are higher on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The coming days will show what kind of effect holiday gatherings have given.

What did the government's scientific council discuss on Monday and did you make any decisions or give the government any recommendations?

We will have another council this Wednesday as the government's sitting is on Thursday. [On Monday] we discussed how vaccinations have gone in Estonia. The Ministry of Social Affairs presented us their plans in great details on vaccinations so far. The scientific council found that we can be satisfied with that and that the social ministry has plans in place. As time goes on, the plans can change in one way or the other. And that will depend on how new vaccine shipments arrive in Estonia. Will more than 10,000 a week come in in the future or will it stay on that level.

One important indicator is what the situation in hospitals is looking like and how many COVID-19 patients they hold. It seems as if the situation has stabilized over the last couple of weeks. Based on that, can we say that current restrictions have worked? And what will happen after January 17, when the restrictions are set to end?

Restrictions have certainly worked. If we look at the situation in hospitals, then the situation in Ida-Viru County has stabilized. Coronavirus beds are full in hospitals but there has not been a strong increase. But the situation in Tallinn hospitals has not stabilized, numbers increased over the holidays in the three large hospitals.

But Tallinn's restrictions just entered into force (on December 28 - ed.) so they could not affect hospitals just yet. But if the easing of restrictions were to come and I certainly hope we can ease something, we cannot take off all restrictions right away. We must see what the holiday period brought. Restrictions will be eased gradually.

Should the first places to have restrictions eased be schools in Harju and Ida-Viru counties?

The scientific council pushed the school discussion to tomorrow (Wednesday - ed.) for the reason of us having more epidemiological data then. Schools are a critical discussion. We can see infection having dropped among children. How much that has affected infection among older people, there is no direct relation of schools being closed decreasing infection among those elderly. But yes. Schools will likely be the first thing. Education is important.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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