University of Tartu Hospital: No light at the end of the tunnel this wave

Tartu University Hospital main entrance.
Tartu University Hospital main entrance. Source: Tartu University Hospital.

The number of hospitalized coronavirus patients is increasing each day and hospital chiefs say that a situation in which scheduled treatments are completely suspended and the treatment of patients in critical condition is in danger is soon to come. ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" went to the University of Tartu Hospital to assess the situation.

It is Friday afternoon at the intensive care unit of the University of Tartu Hospital. University of Tartu crisis medicine chief and professor Joel Starkopf looks tired and more desperate than ever when counting the ages of patients in the intensive care unit.

"78,77, there was a 35-year old there, a 57-year old here. So we had ages ranging from 27 to 77 in two units. The patients are not just the elderly, there are middle-aged people and younger people, who require intensive care," Starkopf said.õ

Four patients in the two intensive care wards already require external circulatory pumps. There were 18 patients requiring intensive care at the hospital on Friday, only two of them were vaccinated. Both had immune deficiencies so the virus would not have helped much.

"We can see very clearly that the patients requiring intensive care are mostly unvaccinated. Clearly. If we only had to deal with the cases that come after vaccinations, our rhythm would be regular. We could handle those patients in our regular routine. The burden unvaccinated people put on hospitals is a serious issue," Starkopf said.

In addition to the intensive care bed places, the hospital has also had to create more regular coronavirus wards. In one of those wards is Sirje, a 69-year old woman who needs help breathing.

"I was hoping I would recover at home, but go figure, I was not lucky enough. Everyone told me I would recover and it would be nothing. But this recovery is far from nothing," Sirje said and added that she is not vaccinated.

"The thing with that was that I did not rush to get it right away. I did not have a secure feeling with getting vaccinated. Everything just seemed so open. There was no security of someone coming to tell me to get vaccinated and that things would be fine then," she noted.

Now she believes that if she had gotten vaccinated, her situation would be far better. "I do think, even believe, that I would have recovered more easily. Because I have always been a person that does not get too ill. I have never been too ill," Sirje said.

Doctors ask each patient coming into the infection ward if they are vaccinated and if not - why? Although there are people completely against vaccinations, there are those who doubt. Like Sirje.

"There are younger people that believed before getting the illness that they would recover quickly like their friends and family. They did not think they could end up in hospital. There are very young people that now admit that they should have gotten vaccinated. We do not know who can have a more serious case and need hospital treatment or even intensive care. There are younger people on intensive care, as well," said University of Tartu Hospital infection department manager Anne Kallaste.

Sirje said she was made doubtful by the amount of information - one side spoke about the usefulness of vaccines, but she also heard stories of worrying consequences.

"There were all kinds of stories. And then you are between two sides, to do or not to do. We had many people anti-vaxxers in Võrumaa campaigning and saying you should not get vaccinated. I might have gotten vaccinated if I used my own head, but I did not have people around me. One said one thing, another spoke of something else," Sirje said.

Kallaste said there are many people that doubt in vaccines. "It seems to me like these people are not affected by major vaccination campaigns. You need a personal approach, hopefully family physicians can do that over the next few weeks," the infection specialist said.

As many doctors do, Starkopf said bringing a more personal approach to vaccinations comes too late. The burden on hospitals is growing each day and estimates show that things will get more complicated as time goes on. There are already as many patients hospitalized at the University of Tartu Hospital as in spring.

"In spring, when we were working on 200 patients, there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Because there were restrictions on society, contacts were limited and infections began to drop. We worked in full sweat until June and then went straight to vaccinations," Starkopf said.

He said the staff does not see a light at the end of the tunnel now. "We do not see there being restrictions to lessen contacts and we do not see a growing interest in vaccinations. I would really like to call on people to think about it, get vaccinated immediately, it is important for you and those around you," Starkopf added.

As of Monday, there are 516 coronavirus patients hospitalized in Estonia, 362 of them require treatment for the coronavirus. 70 percent of those patients are unvaccinated.

There are a total of 782,111 vaccine doses administered in Estonia. The vaccination process has been completed for 56.4 percent of the total population.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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