Jevgeni Ossinovski: Why have we left the weakest without proper protection?

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Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

We have vaccinated more of those who complain the loudest and are easier to have come in. This has left the weakest part of society without the protection it needs. In a situation where many countries have achieved near universal coverage, Estonia has managed to give at least one vaccine dose to just 40 percent of people over the age of 80, Jevgeni Ossinovski writes.

On average, every one hundredth person who tests positive for COVID-19 dies in Estonia. Relatives will have to eventually bury 12 of the 1,202 people who were diagnosed on Monday. It is a dry fact as the people in question are already ill.

At the same time, the mortality rate for this disease is highly uneven – it is 1 percent for 60-69-year-olds, while it is more than ten times that among people over 80. Every thirteenth female patient over the age of 80 and every fifth male patient dies.

Because the right to life is a fundamental human right, most countries have made it an absolute priority to vaccinate residents over 80 as that is the way to save the most lives. The health benefits of vaccinating people in that age group are greatest.

We also believed in Estonia that the state would vaccinate everyone in the 80+ age group following the inoculation of essential medical staff. While this was the case at first, we could soon read about 40-50-year-olds being called in to get the shot while their elderly parents had not been vaccinated yet.

The government has tried to play down such reports, talking about individual doses left over that would have been thrown away otherwise. Unfortunately, comparative data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control suggests that while Estonia is in third place in the EU when it comes to total vaccinations per capita, it is trailing the pack when it comes to coverage in the 80+ age group.

At the very back of the pack. In a situation where many countries have achieved near universal coverage, Estonia has managed to give at least one vaccine dose to just 40 percent of people over the age of 80.

How is this possible and where have the doses ended up? First of all, we have immunized a lot of young people. By March 23, Estonia had vaccinated 50,000 people aged 18-49 and just 29,000 people over 80. While this can partly (and only partly) be explained through immunization of essential workers, the fact remains that we have made a lot more vaccine available to young people compared to the oldest.

Secondly, we have been vaccinating everyone over the age of 50 quite universally. Let us take a closer look at the numbers of people who have been vaccinated. Those vaccinated number 29,000 in the 50-59 age group, 36,000 in the 60-69 age group, 28,000 in the 70-79 age group, with a total of 100,000 people aged 50-79 now vaccinated. At the same time, we have vaccinated 29,000 people over 80.

Looking at general vaccination coverage for 50+ year-olds, Estonia finds itself in third place in Europe. While we are among the last when it comes to coverage of the 80+ group. This means that while other countries really have prioritized 80+ vaccinations, we have not.

Why does it matter? Because for a 50-59-year-old, the risk of dying of COVID-19 is nearing zero, while the mortality rate is over 10 percent for people over 80. This means that someone's decisions or lack thereof have left the people who are most vulnerable without sufficient protection. It has cost us lives and will cost more in the coming months.

Of course, this is not an academic analysis. Around 650 people have died in Estonia since vaccines became available toward the beginning of the year. The country's general mortality rate is much higher than it has been in previous years. It is very important to realize that most of these deaths could have been prevented.

Most. Of. These. Deaths. Should. Never. Have. Happened.

First, by taking appropriate measures to contain the epidemic and at the same time making sure to quickly vaccinate the most vulnerable groups. Kaja Kallas' government has completely failed in the first, while the aim has also been off regarding vaccination efforts. We have vaccinated more of those who complain the loudest and are easier to have come in. This has left the weakest part of society without the protection it needs. Yet another dry fact.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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