Finland to consider mandatory Covid jabs for healthcare workers

Studies suggest between five and ten percent of social and health workers in Finland are unvaccinated.

This person, who wanted to remain anonymous, said they suspect their loved one died after contracting Covid from an unvaccinated home health worker. Image: Eija Heikkilä / Yle

Finland is seeing suspected cases of unvaccinated nurses passing coronavirus to patients, which is why lawmakers will soon consider a government bill making Covid jabs mandatory for healthcare workers.

One family's story in Keuruu, some 60km west of Jyväskylä, is raising debate. They claim their 93-year-old grandmother died after becoming infected by an unvaccinated home health aide.

The woman's grandchild told Yle that though their grandmother was double-jabbed, she likely contracted the virus from an unvaccinated home health aide who had tested positive.

"How is it possible that people working with risk groups aren't necessarily vaccinated [against coronavirus]?" the deceased woman's grandchild asks.

Before passing away, the grandmother told her family the nurse admitted to neither being vaccinated nor planning to get the jab.

No records

Finland does not keep official records of cases involving unvaccinated carers infecting patients with Covid.

"I'd believe it's a matter of a handful of cases," said Anna Kukka of Local Government and County Employers KT, a lobby for local and municipal authorities.

She said getting precise figures in these situation was difficult. That's because employers in Finland cannot legally demand that workers provide information on their vaccination status. Kukka also noted that fully vaccinated people are still capable of spreading the virus.

Chief superintendent Konsta Arvelin from the National Police Board also said he was unaware of any investigations into unvaccinated carers infecting patients.

Arvelin, however, said anyone intentionally spreading the virus could be suspected of assault.

With the Keuruu woman's case making local headlines, Mari Kolu, a director with the city, said she hoped Parliament would soon amend infectious disease laws to require mandatory Covid vaccinations for social and health staff.

"When it's written into law, unvaccinated workers have an obligation to tell employers about their vaccination status. Then we'll have to consider what kind of work they can do," Kolu explained.

The government's bill mandating healthcare worker vaccinations is expected to reach lawmakers next week, according to Pasi Pohjola, a strategy director at the Ministry for Social Affairs and Health.

5-10 percent unvaccinated

Helsinki GSE, a cross-university research group, has estimated that more than ten percent of Finland's social and healthcare workers have turned down the jab. Other studies have put that number around five percent.

Helsinki GSE's research also suggests that vaccine coverage in the field is the highest—over 90 percent—among specialised healthcare workers, while practical nurses and those working with disabled patients have the lowest uptake, estimated around 80 percent, according to the group.

Following widespread local publicity on the Keuruu woman's death, the Central Finland Police Department said it was opening a preliminary investigation into the case.

This week Yle News' All Points North podcast finds out what life is really like for healthcare workers and patients on a Finnish coronavirus ward. You can listen here.