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Finland to decide this week on expanding second Covid boosters

Some European states are timing fourth shots for the autumn, when there is generally an increase in respiratory infections.

THL chief doc Hanna Nohynek told Yle that Finland could see new variant-specific vaccines by the end of this summer. Image: Benjamin Suomela / Yle

Public health authority THL and the National Vaccine Expert Group (Krar) will this week say whether they recommend expanding second Covid vaccine boosters to younger adults.

At the moment only those 80 and above, seniors living in care homes and people who are severely immunocompromised have had access to a fourth vaccine dose.

Finnish public health officials are currently assessing which age groups would benefit the most from additional boosters. Optimal time frames for fourth doses are also under consideration, according to Hanna Nohynek, Chief Physician and head of the vaccine programme at the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Covid figures now indicate that the Finnish coronavirus epidemic is waning following an uptick earlier this year—a phenomenon Nohynek said Finland also experienced last year.

"The figures now look very good. We've been on our way down for several weeks, so the trend is headed in a better direction," she told Yle.

As of Monday there were 802 patients with Covid in Finnish hospitals, an increase of 43 since Friday, the THL said.

Sweden expands second boosters

EU states have not synchronised policies on fourth doses. So far, around 10 European countries have greenlit second boosters.

Early last month Sweden recommended fourth doses for everyone over the age of 65, with shots also available for immunocompromised individuals.

"Finland has used a slightly different schedule for administering vaccine doses, with the two initial shots further apart than in many other countries, including Sweden," Nohynek said, explaining that countries' vaccine schedules were not directly comparable.

Denmark has meanwhile said that it will hold off on a fourth dose until the fall, possibly coinciding with a new Covid wave. Belgium, Latvia, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic have made similar decisions.

Nohynek said it was likely for a second booster to be more effective when an epidemic was accelerating rather than waning, as vaccine effectiveness tapers off a few months after injection.

In Finland, some 51 percent of people over the age of 80 have received fourth doses since the end of March. Nohynek said it's too early to tell what impact the second booster has had on hospital figures.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have said it's too premature to rule on second boosters for the general population.

Nohynek said Finland may see new vaccines tailored to specific coronavirus variants by the end of the summer, but added that "we don't yet know what that tailored vaccine will be like because it's not available yet".

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