Stagnant pace of vaccination will not help in exit from crisis

A vaccination session in Lasnamäe.
A vaccination session in Lasnamäe. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Hospital beds were occupied by many new coronavirus patients last week, and the situation is bleak, with a slowdown of vaccination not solving the issue either, ERR reports. At the same time, two-thirds of Estonian adults have completed their vaccination course and are now even awaiting a booster shot.

Last week, coronavirus patients needing hospital treatment rose to 350. There are more unvaccinated people among these than vaccinated, and the course of the virus is more severe in these cases. Hospitals are also having to cut down on other treatments. The virus forces the public to isolate, yet these facts are still not enough for a lot of people to get vaccinated.

"When we look at studies conducted, which ask people why haven't you been vaccinated, then the first reason people bring out is that they are afraid of the side effects. The other reason is that the vaccines don't ensure enough protection," Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said.

"As of now, many unvaccinated people still feel that it's a case of 'them versus us'. And they're right," University of Tartu's behavioral scientist Andero Uusberg said.

Last week, the two coalition partners disputed over how to move on. The proposals included establishing stricter restrictions for unvaccinated people, controlling valid restrictions and establishing fines, rewarding vaccinated people.

"There are several measures that could help with the issue, but we consider individual contact the most efficient - turning to risk groups and give them a chance to ask questions and reach an agreement," Uusberg suggested.

Social scientist and politician Marju Lauristin says that it is important address the younger demographic, as they are the main vectors of the virus as of now.

"In my opinion, we should also use platforms which are important for the young -TikTok, Instagram, Youtube - and create a proper social media campaign," Lauristin said.

Kallas said that the government is moving towards customized solutions. "The final group [to get vaccinated] is one which is still in doubt but is not against vaccination per se; we have offered them customized solutions to cope with these fears," Kallas said.

It's understandable to want to put pressure on people to get vaccinated, but two different types of pressure need to be distinguished, Uusberg added.

"One is a little discomfort, which reminds people to get vaccinated, and this measurement is quietly working in the background," Uusberg said.

Another route is to make vaccination mandatory, relegating individual desires in the process.

"If we don't bring it out into the open, there's a serious danger of starting to bully people, where the life of an unvaccinated person is made more and more difficult, and this won't be effective," he added.

"How it is then possible to talk to people who don't consider vaccination the most important topic at the moment? It's a classical marketing trick," he went on.

"When you want to sell a product to people who don't even know what they want, then it's important to think about the consumption habits of the target group, where he or she goes to, whom he or she listens to, how to make an impact on a person who doesn't read newspapers or watch television, but talks to his or her neighbor every day," member of the Entrepreneurs Working Group, and head of waste disposal firm Ragn-Sells Kai Realo says.

Marju Lauristin said: "Segmentation needs to be put in place here. For example, in the case of an advertisement. When you make it for an elderly person you do it one way and when you make it for a 15-year-old, you do it in another way,."

Another issue that is slowing up the vaccination pace is the situation with family doctors.

The government has promised to pay a bonus to family doctor centers where over 80 percent of patient lists are vaccinated.

Uusberg said that: "According to my knowledge, the experience of callers that one vaccinated person is found every 10 or 20 calls, and these calls are hard to bear because oftentimes, the unvaccinated people are angry and disappointed and releasing their anger during these calls," Uusberg noted.

"When people are afraid of these side effects and we offer them money, will they say they're not afraid anymore. It actually doesn't work like that. The medicines agency has said that the vaccine is still a medicine, to tie with money or some kind of gifts is not the right thing to do," Kallas said.

"Then you should start giving money for everything. You feel sick, you go to the doctor, first the doctor gives you €10 for 'thanks for coming'" Lauristin said.

Already in the spring, several companies offered their help in arranging vaccinations, as well as testing when the virus appeared.

"One of the small suggestions of our working group was that next to the buses, we should definitely prioritize to find the place where a person goes and where he goes regularly, that he could get the second dose from the same place," Kai Realo said.

Lauristin added that there are too few professionals involved, while private companies and more trusted officials could be brought on board.

"It's the kind of fear that prevails in government, the fear of making some kind of decision. I think it's clear to everyone in society that it's one of those crippling factors. If the government doesn't decide, then why should an individual decide?" Lauristin said.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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