Chief docs: Finland in no hurry to roll out Covid boosters

One of the experts says that it is more important to vaccinate children against the virus, adding that could start happening as early as next month.

Sally Leskinen, chief medical officer at the Kanta-Häme hospital district.

Finland is in no hurry to broadly roll out third Covid vaccine booster shots, as two jabs already protects the majority of the population from severe complications caused by the virus.

That's the opinion of chief physician Hanna Nohynek from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), and Sally Leskinen, the chief medical officer at the Kanta-Häme hospital district.

About a week ago, health care workers across the country achieved the government's goal of vaccinating 80 percent of the population over the age of 12.

Leskinen said that at this point it is more important that young children between the ages of 5-11 get vaccinated, noting that infections also affect schools and daycare centres.

She told Yle's A-studio programme on Tuesday evening that even if adults get two or three jabs, infections are still possible at home due to unvaccinated youngsters.

The National Advisory Committee on Vaccines (Krar) is considering whether to start vaccinating kids in the 5-11 age group early next month. According to Nohynek, who also participated in the current affairs show, Krar is working hard to gather information about children's illnesses, infections and the spread of infections.

However, Nohynek emphasised that the safety of the vaccine for this age group needs to be confirmed before it rolls out.

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Hanna Nohynek Image: Jari Kovalainen / Yle

"The vaccine must also be of sufficient benefit to the child, in relation to the harms it could cause," she said.

Children in some Asian countries and the United States have already received Covid vaccination, but Finland's rollout of the jabs to youngsters depends on recommendations and market authorisation from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Nohynek: Base rate bias in play

So far, about 4.2 million people in Finland have been vaccinated against Covid. About 28,000 of those were infected with the virus after receiving either their first or second doses. However, authorities expected this, as no vaccine provides 100 percent protection.

In a separate interview, Nohynek told Yle that there are several reasons why vaccinated people are increasingly being infected by coronavirus.

"One is that the effectiveness of the vaccine against infection and mild [Covid] cases almost halves after six months. In those who get infected and get mild symptoms despite being vaccinated, it is due to this reduction in protective antibodies over time," Nohynek explained.

"Those who become seriously ill [from a coronavirus infection] and end up in hospital often have an underlying illness. Their ability to be protected by vaccines is not as good as in younger, healthier people. In these cases the worsening of the underlying illness caused by the coronavirus infection is the reason for hospitalisation," she said.

"The third reason is that as more people are vaccinated, the more likely it is there will be breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals," Nohynek explained, noting that the term for this phenomenon is known as the statistical "base rate bias," similar to the false positive paradox.

Regarding the duration of protection among the double-dosed population, Nohynek said it largely depends on the interval between the two doses.

Double-dose effectiveness

"Canadians have done good research on the subject. Their study compared the effectiveness of doses given at different intervals, and comparisons were done for 3-4 weeks, 6-7 weeks, 8-9 weeks, and so on up to a 16-week interval," she said.

"The results showed that the vaccine provided 90 percent protection against severe complications for up to eight months among people whose doses were administered at least 12 weeks apart. We do not yet know how long the that level of protection will be sustained," Nohynek said.

Finnish health authorities have not yet made a decision about administering third booster vaccine doses to people under the age of 60, but the chief physician said there are indications of benefits from third doses.

"The research results from Israel look good. After the third vaccination, it was found that people's antibody responses multiplied and the effect of the vaccine provided enhanced protection against the risk of requiring hospitalisation and ICU treatment, as well as death. The number of infections also decreased significantly. But how long their effectiveness remains at a good level is not yet known," she said.