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HUS top doc: Covid is here to stay

Meanwhile, THL is expected to recommend second boosters for people 60 as well as others in risk groups this autumn.

An outdoor cafe at Helsinki's Kasarmitori Square last summer, file photo. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Covid-19 will continue to be a permanent part of life, according to Asko Järvinen, chief physician at HUS, the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district.

"We can't get rid of it. Yes, coronavirus [which causes Covid] is here to stay. We cannot eliminate it with vaccines or restrictions," Järvinen told Yle TV1's breakfast show on Wednesday.

He also said he doesn't really support the idea of offering second Covid booster vaccinations to all age groups. Järvinen noted that people vaccinated in Finland have elevated levels of protection, as the doses were spread out over a longer period of time than in other countries.

"Our three vaccines provide protection that is equivalent to four vaccines elsewhere," he said.

Asko Järvinen Image: Benjamin Suomela / Yle

Second boosters for 60-and-up

At the moment Finland is only offering second booster (or fourth) Covid vaccinations to people over the age of 80, as well as those in their 70s belonging to risk groups.

However, that situation is set to change, as the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) will recommend that people over the age of 60 — as well as those belonging to risk groups aged 12-59 — get the second booster, starting in September.

The health agency's recommendation is based on the seasonal nature of Covid, as it is likely that new cases will rise in the autumn. The epidemic situation will also be affected by possible new coronavirus variants, according to THL chief physician Hanna Nohynek.

She said it is a good idea to boost the protection against serious complications offered by the vaccine, which slowly fade over time.

Hanna Nohynek Image: Rinna Härkönen / Yle

Fourth jabs of earlier-generation Covid vaccines will start being offered to people in their mid-60s in August. New vaccine formulations to better combat new variants are currently being developed.

"We still have to wait for vaccines that are tailored to the variants, maybe even longer, depending on how negotiations and decisions between authorities and pharmaceutical firms go," Nohynek explained.

According to THL, there is no medical reason to recommend fourth doses for younger people who don't belong to risk groups, as the protection offered by three doses against serious illness is sufficient.

THL's new recommendations are preliminary and the agency will issue detailed guidelines by the beginning of August, at the latest. The advance announcement about the plans was made in order to give municipalities time to prepare in advance.

Better summer

HUS' chief doc Järvinen noted that the Covid situation is better this summer than in previous years.

"Yes, this is completely different. There is a very small risk of suffering a severe form of the disease among the vaccinated," he said, who added that coronavirus diagnosis in hospitals is increasingly occurring due to people being hospitalised for other ailments.

He said there were currently about a dozen "real" Covid patients in the HUS region and that the health care system is more burdened by an acute shortage of nursing staff rather than pressures from Covid.

A queue for Covid vaccinations in Helsinki last summer. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Finland's Covid mortality rate peaked in the spring and has decreased somewhat. According to Järvinen, most deaths caused by the disease are among elderly people who are otherwise in poor health.

On the other hand, the number of new Covid cases has remained relatively high. Due to low lab testing levels, it is estimated that there are up to six times as many actual new cases as the official numbers suggest.

THL's monitoring of wastewater also indicates that there is still a good deal of coronavirus circulating in Finland.