Indrek Kiisler: How about we calm down concerning Covid

Indrek Kiisler.
Indrek Kiisler. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

It is complete exaggeration to claim we are on the verge of a disaster? While every dose does count, a difference of a few percentage points [in vaccination figures] can do nothing to thwart the third wave of the coronavirus at this point. And everyone who really wanted it has found a vaccination station and got at least their first dose, Indrek Kiisler writes in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Every person in Estonia can take tiny personal steps that can help slow the spread of the coronavirus and flatten the viral curve. For example, by getting vaccinated and taking other precautions. But that is largely it.

Man cannot make the virus disappear, which is a message I hope the last eighteen months of near-constant disappointment have now driven home. Scientists say that there will be a third wave, just as there will be a fourth and a fifth. The disease will stay with mankind for years, while it is to be hoped that the effects of the virus will become milder with each wave, despite considerable infection figures.

Vaccination coverage is close to what is needed for herd immunity in the UK or Malta, while both countries were still hit by a surge of new infections that is luckily coming down again by now. Considerably fewer people ended up in hospital, while the mortality rate was down even more compared to previous waves.

There is no real explanation for why the virus tends to back off after a while in the case of new and more rapidly spreading strains. A good example of this is India as the birthplace of the Delta variant that found itself in a downright depressing situation in spring. There were acute shortages of beds, respiratory equipment, oxygen – everything really. Only a few percent of the population has been vaccinated. And yet, the infection curve still took a nosedive in what is a very densely populated country sporting at best a modest medical system.

We have seen the same happen in Spain and the UK in recent weeks, whereas no serious new measures were laid down. Therefore, we can flatten viral waves, while we cannot prevent them.

It is peculiar to look at the humdudgeon that has broken out in Estonia in recent weeks in this context.

Largely a question of mentality

Yes, Estonia's vaccination coverage is much lower than it could be. Miscalculations and management errors are obvious. Forecasts regarding people's motivation to get vaccinated were based on the spring situation when thousands were desperately looking for immunization opportunities. The people who really wanted to get vaccinated have by now and we need to turn our attention to those for whom it is not a priority. And that requires a different approach.

However, it is obvious exaggeration to claim we have come to the verge of a disaster. While every dose does count, a difference of a few percentage points [in vaccination figures] can do nothing to thwart the third wave of the coronavirus at this point. And everyone who really wanted it has found a vaccination station and got at least their first dose.

We will never achieve the kind of vaccination coverage seen in Sweden or Iceland considering our historical background. Look at countries' immunization graphs. All post-communist and authoritarian states are back markers. And it is no coincidence that things get worse the further east one looks. Whereas it is not just about organizational ability. The issue is largely that of casts of mind. Our adult population simply isn't used to vaccination.

Of course, we should not just sit around, keeping our gaze fixed on the infection graph and daily case rates. Everyone can contribute to withstanding the virus. However, many have chosen a peculiar way to go about that. For example, there are plenty of people on social media who start their day by combing through anti-vaccination websites. They pick out obvious nonsense and lay it out to be made fun of by others. Another practice is engaging in verbal skirmishes with anti-vaccers.

People who categorically refuse to be vaccinated make up 5-7 percent of the population. Trying to change their mind and pin them down using restrictions is a waste of energy. Society can cope with the virus if they remain unvaccinated.

However, everyone who is worried by the slow pace of vaccination can take a look around and find people in their circle who for some reason – whether out of laziness, ignorance, inability or a slight subconscious fear – have not gone in to get vaccinated. People who are not opposed to vaccination on principle. Convincing and helping relatives, friends, acquaintances, and especially older people, get vaccinated is the greatest contribution each one of us can make.

Believe me, it is more use than recording people taking the bus and not wearing a mask or keeping an eye on the posts of anti-vaccers on Facebook. Or simply cursing the government and hapless officials. Neither [Minister of Health and Labor] Tanel Kiik nor [former social ministry official] Maris Jesse will show up at people's houses and walk them in to get vaccinated one by one. That is not the government's task. But every one of us can help by urging our fellow citizens to take that step.

EKRE leaders taking the cynical approach

Of course, we also have politicians with itchy fingers, who cannot wait to take over and know how to raise hell to that effect. For example, former Social Minister Jevgeni Ossinovski told ERR that timely vaccination could have prevented the third wave.

But what would happen were Ossinovski, as someone who just loves orders and bans, minister today? Can you imagine the pile of orders, regulations and prohibitions on his desk every day, despite the latter having nothing whatsoever to do with the viral situation by then.

That is precisely what Ossinovski did when he tried to wean Estonians off alcohol by resorting to high excise duty rates. The latter were hiked during a time when half of Estonians were already getting cheap booze abroad. However, it needs to be said to the credit of Jevgeni Ossinovski that unlike a lot of other politicians looking to make the news, he is genuinely worried about the situation.

That cannot be said by looking at the statements made by Conservative People's Party (EKRE) leader Martin Helme. Whether ordering people to wear masks when taking public transport was proportional or not is a matter of debate. The government did it just in case, to ward off accusations of having done nothing down the line. While the EKRE chairman's call not to comply with the government's order sends his voters a clear signal that everything the Kallas administration asks or tells them to do is of the devil.

Where is vaccination coverage poorest? In counties and cities where people support EKRE and the Center Party. And it is no coincidence. Both parties largely rely on voters whose position in society is precarious in many ways. And their trust in the Estonian state and its services low. EKRE's vaccinated leaders are acting as cynics when they fuel their unvaccinated supporters' doubts.

In some ways, the third wave arrived just in time. It was like an alarm clock going off early. The summer's relaxation and feeling of liberty has already been replaced with a more businesslike outlook that is reflected in a sharp spike in people looking to get vaccinated in the past week.

In truth, we have time to make the necessary preparations before the viral season. The third wave will hit people who have not been vaccinated with increasingly pesky constraints and restrictions. We can already see that it has provided many with the much-needed impulse to get the vaccine.

Therefore, it is high time to make vaccination as available as possible. Family doctors who have been enjoying their summer holiday need to start administering vaccines again, while it is very important to offer vaccination without requiring prior registration as it turns out the digital literacy of a large chunk of society is modest to say the least.

Professor Irja Lutsar said in a recent interview that panic and hysteria cannot help us and that feeling afraid all the time will eventually dismantle a person's immune system. It is something panic-mongers and those looking to fish in muddy waters should remember if they care even a little about their own health and that of others.

Editor: Marcus Turovski

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