Hospital heads: Vaccination needs to be reprioritized leading up to fall

Room at North Estonia Medical Center (PERH).
Room at North Estonia Medical Center (PERH). Source: Jürgen Randma/Government Office

Heads of major hospitals find that vaccination of people in risk groups is still the most effective measure for alleviating next fall's coronavirus wave and avoiding lockdowns. There is no way to hire enough extra staff or refit hospitals before then.

Urmas Sule, chief of medicine for the Health Board's [coronavirus] crisis headquarters and head of Pärnu Hospital, said that the current situation in Estonian medicine makes preparing for the next coronavirus wave difficult.

"We find ourselves in a situation where, in addition to the coronavirus, we also have an emergency in terms of offering Ukrainian refugees healthcare services. Our first duty is to map out the activities in those two plans," Sule said.

He also said that Estonia has a healthcare services deficit of at least €30 million in last year's prices. "We need to be able to treat the full spectrum of pathologies, not just Covid patients," he said.

Sule named as the third major challenge making sure healthcare workers get to rest and recuperate. "It does not show – nor should it – but people are tired, because it has been hard. We are planning quite a few solutions. For example, the residency and in-service practice system of medical students has been reworked. We have a consensus for boosting training of nurses and other medical specialists," Sule listed. "All these measures will yield results but not by this fall."

Pärnu Hospital is planning new functions and ramping up its infection control capacity, while the work will not be completed before late 2023, Sule remarked.

He emphasized that vaccinating the most vulnerable part of society is key looking to the fall. "In the recent wave, the number of nursing home patients who had to be admitted was much lower as they have been vaccinated," Sule said.

Vaccination should be mandatory for the elderly

Member of the board of the Tartu University Hospital Joel Starkopf also highlighted the importance of vaccination.

"It is very difficult to predict this fall's COVID-19 infection rate, the need for hospitalization and the mortality rate. We would stress that the fight against the coronavirus cannot be won by creating new hospital places and hiring staff but through vaccination," Starkopf said.

The university's coronavirus prevalence study suggests that roughly 90 percent of the population has Covid antibodies. This means people have some protection against severe illness," he said.

"Paying maximum attention to vaccinating people over 60 needs to be a healthcare priority, with third and likely fourth booster doses an important part. Inoculation should be mandatory for people in that age group," Starkopf said. "If we could get that done in spring and summer, the anticipated fall Covid wave would be manageable," he added.

Member of the board of the North Estonia Medical Center (PERH) Peep Talving said that it is quite probable a new wave of the disease will hit come fall. "PERH has pandemic escalation plans we have applied in recent waves and are prepared to execute again," he said.

"We are building new isolators using REACT resources allocated in 2021, while these will not be finished before late 2023. We are planning 39 independent isolators," Talving said, adding that the hospital will once again give a few intensive care units for pandemic treatment if necessary.

"Unfortunately, pandemic care will have to come at the expense of non-pandemic care in the coming years as it is simply impossible to design, procure and construct new hospitals in a few years. Especially in light of construction price hikes caused by the war."

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Editor: Marcus Tuovski

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