People over the age of 60 and risk groups should get their booster dose as soon as possible

The statistics of catching COVID-19 show that both infection and hospitalisation are on the rise, so it is extremely important that people in risk groups vaccinate against the virus and take other measures to prevent infection.

According to Marje Oona, family physician and Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Tartu, people in the risk group should do this right away. According to the immunoprophylaxis expert committee, the risk group includes everyone over the age of 60 and those over the age of 12 who have a higher risk of suffering from severe COVID-19 due to some chronic disease. “If a person is willing and able to get vaccinated, there is a possibility of falling seriously ill, and more than half a year have passed since the previous vaccine dose, they should get their fourth dose right now,” said Oona. She added that risk groups also include people who are more likely to come into contact with the sick, such as health care professional and nursing home staff.

According to Ruth Kalda, Professor of Family Medicine and Head of the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health of the University of Tartu, we are currently not able to make as accurate forecasts as before regarding the dominant strain. “In the case of Omicron and the currently prevalent BA.5 strain, we cannot predict exactly how the disease will progress, but based on the past, it is clear that the peak periods of illness will be autumn, winter and early spring. Therefore, even those who are not included in risk groups but who wish to take the fourth dose should schedule it for September, at the latest,” said Kalda, according to whom vaccination with the fourth dose is also effective for those who are not directly included in risk groups. “This difference is not quite as apparent as it is in preventing a serious illness of people in the risk group, but those who wish to boost their immunity against a serious virus are very welcome to get vaccinated as the autumn arrives,” said Kalda.

According to Oona, people’s goals regarding vaccination can be completely different from, for example, what the scientific council and the immunoprophylaxis expert committee have set as a target. “Severe illness can for one person mean that they need hospital treatment in the form of oxygen therapy or artificial ventilation of the lungs. But people may also define severe illness with milder symptoms – high fever, harrowing cough or long-term fatigue following illness, which significantly affect the quality of the person’s life,” Oona said.

According to current knowledge, the COVID-19 disease has many different forms of manifestation that have changed over time. “In the beginning, we saw a lot of complaints related to the sense of smell and taste, which have now decreased. Currently, people are mainly suffering from weakness, heart palpitations and difficulty breathing, and if we were to look at various research results, it can be seen that suffering from the virus can also cause several other medical conditions. Here, we mean, for example, blood clots, diabetes and various cognitive disorders, the probability of which is higher after suffering from the disease,” Oona said. In her practice, she sees many people who have decided to not get vaccinated and to suffer the disease. “In my opinion, this is not reasonable, because a person can get long-term health damage by suffering the disease, so vaccine is many times safer than illness and, for example, long-lasting COVID and the accompanying ailments,” she added.

No miracle cure has been found yet

Family physicians are unable to give an objective answer to the question of whether the coronavirus could be equated to flu in the near future. As we know, COVID-19 has been spreading for a very short time and it is unlikely that the virus can reach a certain final phase in its evolution in the coming months where the virus can no longer develop further. “The problem is therefore the newness of the disease and the fact that the virus evolves with each new strain, and it is therefore premature to say that we could forget about it in the coming months. Instead, us learning to live with the virus, protecting ourselves as much as possible, plays a big role. This is where known and familiar recommendations come to the rescue – still vaccination, personal hygiene, wearing a mask, and self-isolation in case of illness,” Oona explained.

“Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure or special new strategies yet. The basic recommendations in terms of wearing a mask, personal hygiene and washing hands that should not be forgotten alongside vaccination come to play once again,” Kalda said. As such, it is still the people who can do a lot themselves to prevent the disease by observing the epidemiological situation and acting according to the instructions given to society. “And foremost still vaccination, because we really do have a lot of vulnerable people to whom the risk of falling ill and dying as a result of the disease continues to exist,” she added.

Based on recent forecasts, the Estonian immunoprophylaxis expert committee has made recommendations regarding the second booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which everyone included in risk groups should take. The risk groups include all people over the age of 60 and all people over the age of 12 who have a higher risk of suffering severely from the COVID-19 disease due to some chronic disease. People should get the second booster dose six months after their last dose or suffering from the disease. According to health care professionals, the same risk groups and elderly people continue to be admitted to the hospital. Recent months have also shown that in addition to unvaccinated people, those vaccinated elderly people whose last vaccination was more than half a year before also end up in hospital.