A small percentage of Finland's healthcare workers are yet to receive a coronavirus vaccine, an Yle survey has revealed.
This means that unvaccinated carers are currently tending to elderly patients in some care homes across the country, despite a law outlining that the use of vaccinated staff is prioritised when it comes to the treatment of vulnerable groups.
However, unlike with influenza, the Communicable Diseases Act does not require healthcare staff to get the coronavirus vaccine.
Yle emailed a questionnaire enquiring into the vaccination status of staff at all 20 hospital districts. Replies were received from 13 districts, and the survey found that between 85 and 95 percent of doctors and nurses have been vaccinated with at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
The figure is however just an estimate as precise health information is covered by patient confidentiality, even in the case of healthcare workers. The hospital district estimates were based on voluntary reports.
The Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District (HUS), for example, reported that the capital's caregivers' vaccination coverage is estimated at 95 percent, with that figure expected to rise.
"Our goal is more than 95 percent vaccination coverage," HUS Communications Manager Niina Kauppinen said.
Unvaccinated younger workers causing concern
Although the number of unvaccinated staff is low and is most commonly detected among younger workers, the issue is causing concern for the Kymenlaakso Hospital District, or Kymsote, according to Chief Administrative Officer Kari Kristeri.
"They are [typically] socially active young adults who get the virus from trips and gatherings," Kristeri said.
Risto Pietikäinen, Kymsote's chief physician, said that although some of the workers tend to patients in their homes, chains of infections among the elderly population have been rare.
The infectious diseases specialist added that young people have found themselves at the tail of vaccination queues in the care sector so not everyone has yet had the chance to receive a jab.
What makes the situation worrying is that a surprising number of healthcare workers are turning the jab down, Pietikäinen added.
"Some young people do not consider the vaccine necessary. I would imagine that some of the unvaccinated workers are still studying and are working for us on summer contracts," Pietikäinen said.
Up to a quarter of Lapland's healthcare staff unvaccinated
Markku Broas, chief physician in Lapland's Hospital District, said that nurses have been requested to take the vaccine only after severe outbreaks of infections. This has recently been the case in three care homes in Lapland and a ward unit of a healthcare centre.
"Some 10-25 percent of staff on the wards were unvaccinated," Broas said, adding that this is not just solely due to a lack of willingness to get the jab.
Lapland's vaccination coverage has experienced delays and thus a large number of students working in hospitals and the care sector under summer contracts have not yet had the chance to get vaccinated or have only received one jab.
In Rovaniemi, for example, there have been difficulties in securing a vaccination appointment, and the vaccination of young people working in the social services was not prioritised over other members of the same age group.
"New employees have not necessarily even had time to book the vaccine before starting work. It is only recently that the pace of vaccination of young people has started to pick up again," Broas said.
Some hospital districts prioritised vaccinations of staff members
The vaccine coverage of healthcare staff varies across different parts of Finland, according to the results of Yle's survey, with nurses and physicians in some districts having had quick and easy access to vaccinations.
This has also applied to deputies and summer workers. Veikko Karvanen, Chief Physician of primary health care in Soster, the South-Savo Hospital District, reported that summer workers and deputies were able to receive their jabs as early as spring, before beginning their employment.
Finland's vaccination policy only gave priority to staff treating coronavirus patients and emergency care, but not all caregivers.
South Karelia's Hospital District (Eksote) and North Karelia's (Siun sote) reported that all workers who agreed to the jab have already been vaccinated.
In the North-Savo hospital district, summer workers have been able to receive the vaccine via occupational health care.
"The mask recommendations have been valid for us all the time, so according to the employer's instructions, working with patients must be done in a protected manner, regardless of whether the employee has been vaccinated or not," Anne Kantanen, director of nursing reported.
Kantanen also pointed out that the vaccine does not provide full protection and thus some of the vaccinated staff have also become infected.
"Individual cases of infections in nurse staff have also been recorded, but there is no information on whether they have been vaccinated or not," Kantanen said.