Because vaccination is no longer a guaranteed way to avoid catching the coronavirus and the risk of side-effects outweighs the potential benefit of inoculation in the case of Omicron variants, virologist Irja Lutsar suggests healthy young people can skip vaccination this fall.
Lutsar said that Estonia finds itself in a new wave of the coronavirus with the number of diagnosed cases growing quickly. "Every new week brings more cases than the last. But I do not see it as disastrous in any way. SARS-CoV-2 has become yet another respiratory system virus which will probably keep doing the rounds. We see no signs of it disappearing altogether, unlike what happened to SARS-CoV-1," Lutsar told ERR.
The virologist said that the infection rate might continue to grow for many more weeks, while it is still too soon to refer to Covid as a seasonal disease. "Seasonal viruses tend to disappear for certain periods. Looking at the flu for example, we register virtually no cases in the summertime. Covid remains an infection that comes in waves."
Lutsar also said that while these waves initially seemed to land every three months, there was a much longer break before the recent wave. Therefore, its occurrence is not regular yet, with the virus still looking for its place, she suggested.
Vaccination no longer an effective way to contain spread
The Estonian immunization expert committee recommends vaccination this fall for people over 60 and those who have diseases which can compromise their immune system. Lutsar said that while vaccines are effective at preventing serious cases of the disease, they do not prevent infection. "The risk of infection is pretty much the same for everyone, young or old. While getting the vaccine could lower the risk of infection for a few months, it is no guarantee. We have seen more and more evidence to suggest vaccination simply cannot prevent infection," the virologist concluded.
"The coronavirus is a rapidly mutating virus. Its strategy seems to be to try and run away from immunity, which is how new waves are created. At the same time, the risk of serious illness remains very low for young and healthy people," she said.
Lutsar said that while vaccination side-effects remain extremely rare, they can include myocarditis and pericarditis in younger men and women, adding that while the earlier strains of Covid were severe enough to justify the risks of vaccination, this is no longer the case for Omicron variants in the case of which serious illness is very rare among the young.
She said that recent strains are usually not severe in very small children, with the elderly mainly at risk.
Hospitalization on the rise
According to data from the Health Board, 1,829 cases of Covid were diagnosed in the first week of November, with the infection rate up 60 percent. The strain currently making the rounds in Estonia usually only causes hospitalization among elderly people who have not been vaccinated. A total of 220 patients were hospitalized in the final week of October.
"Of patients exhibiting symptoms, almost 75 percent are over 60 years of age and most have not been vaccinated," Kärt Sõber, head of the Health Board's epidemiology department, said in a press release last week. She added that vaccination is the only way to avoid a severe case of the disease for the elderly.
But because immunity has been weakening in the 60+ age group also for those who have been vaccinated or have recovered from the disease, hospitalization is forecast to continue going up. There is no danger of the healthcare system becoming overloaded at this time.
Editor: Marcus Turovski