The COVID-19 virus is back. Since the summer, however, its status as a notifiable disease has disappeared. This also implied the elimination of the rationale behind the governmental regulations that, for three years, turned life upside down with distance restrictions, mandatory masks, and lockdowns. Officially, COVID-19 is now comparable to the seasonal flu. As with influenza, how much every individual still protects themselves in the fall and winter is now up to their discretion.
The current wave movement
Two weeks ago, 183 people nationwide had to be hospitalized with COVID-19, but the figure was 125 last week. Intensive care patients were hardly among them. Unlike the flu, COVID-19 is expected to have multiple waves, not just one, as people move closer together again during the cold season and are generally more susceptible to respiratory illnesses due to dry indoor air.
Who else needs vaccinations?
The recommendation of the National Immunization Panel (NIG) is clear: In particular, people at increased risk of severe disease progression should get vaccinated. These include all persons over 60, the chronically ill, severely overweight, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women. Vaccination is also especially encouraged for healthcare workers. This time, one prick is enough. There is only one general vaccination recommendation for the rest of the population: “Those who want to protect themselves.” The recommendations for COVID-19 and influenza are thus virtually identical. And for people under 60, it’s pretty vague.
Virus expert Herwig Kollaritsch, a member of the National Vaccination Panel, says: “In younger people, the protection from previous vaccinations and contagions is still so pronounced that it is up to them whether they get vaccinated against COVID-19, but it is always recommended. In the event of infection, there is no longer a risk of a broken leg, but possibly a sprain,” he says, explaining the new starting position with the help of a metaphor.
The recommended interval from the past vaccination or infection should be around twelve months and at least four months for the at-risk group. The family doctor best determines the ideal gap. The immunization is administered beginning at the age of six months.
The time of the vaccination streets is over.
At the Vienna Mistfest with its thousands of guests, 469 had themselves vaccinated against COVID-19 in mid-September. However, the time of the significant “walk-in” vaccination streets, which the federal government funded, is over. That’s why Vienna has massively reduced its current offering to one vaccination site (“TownTown”). And it is already fully booked until November. For this, 4260 vaccination volunteers were enough. As with influenza, the regular supply of the COVID-19 vaccination has migrated to the private practice sector.
As of last week, only the vaccine from BioNTech/Pfizer is being vaccinated. New mRNA technology has allowed it to be adapted most quickly to the currently dominant variant, Omikron XBB.1.5. The more complex cultivation of classical “dead vaccines” lags behind the mutation-prone virus. A dead vaccine from Novavax is expected in November. AstraZeneca and Valneva have dropped out of the race. Austria no longer has the Moderna vaccine, which was also approved; demand was too low.
According to the profile survey, only six percent worry “very much” and 20 percent “rather” about a new wave. Two-thirds of respondents no longer care about COVID-19. A quarter of the population is thinking about a Corona sting, according to another survey in the “Kurier.” The readiness for a booster is thus at the influenza level. Last season, 17 people were vaccinated against
17 percent of the total population had the vaccine last season. Austria ordered 1.9 million doses of the new COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer alone, plus one million doses from Novavax, starting in November. Vaccination coverage would have to increase significantly to use up all the doses. This is unlikely to happen, given the Corona fatigue in the population.
COVID is no longer to blame for hospital misery.
Protecting hospitals from total overload was a key reason for the most authoritarian Corona measures during the pandemic. In addition to protecting individuals, this basic idea was incorporated this time into the vaccination recommendation for people aged 60 and over, Kollaritsch describes. The shortage of nurses is already causing alarm bells to ring in hospitals almost daily. Entire departments must be closed, thousands of beds remain blocked, or patients lie on the floor. So, is the collapse programmed in the event of a severe multiple wave of flu, COVID and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) in the winter? More likely, no. “Even if only a few under-60s got vaccinated, it probably wouldn’t push the normal wards to the limit,” says Kollaritsch, not just because baseline immunity is high. This time, patients would be distributed more among different departments because the symptomatology has become more complex. Whereas at the beginning of the pandemic, the focus was on treating the respiratory tract, recently, there has been increased talk of gastrointestinal complaints concerning a COVID-19 infection. Another significant difference compared to the past is that there are highly effective medications that do not require hospitalization in the first place.
Flying blind without tests for COVID-19
Anyone who wants to know whether they are Corona-positive must dig into their records for a test or go to the doctor. Corona tests are now only available free of charge from physicians in private practice. Depending on the symptoms, they decide whether to perform an antigen or PCR test. Kollaritsch criticizes this new testing regime. “The time is past when we routinely test ourselves twice a week. However, I would continue to offer free living room tests. People can handle it and would know. So many will forgo testing and pass on the infections.”
Or people are reaching for the FFP2 mask. The strongest breakwater in the future, not only in the doctor’s waiting room but also on public transportation, in front of the theatre, box office, or pharmacy counter, would likely be if people with cold symptoms automatically put on a mask. This protection of the collective, which is a credit to people in countries such as Japan, has not caught on in Austria. Rather, mask wearers have to put up with nasty looks. Wearing them nevertheless requires psychologically solid defences.
What we have learned from the pandemic—or not—
The willingness to be vaccinated also seems to have decreased rather than increased as a result of the pandemic. A “catastrophe,” Kollaritsch concludes, given that more and more effective vaccinations are available, for example, against RSV or influenza. He thinks that the review announced by politicians is pointless. Instead, he prefers to see a management strategy for the future, which would ensure that, in the event of another pandemic, the required hospital capacities are available and that staff members are not overworked; that measures like lockdowns are covered by “watertight” regulations and are not overturned by the Constitutional Court; and, on the other hand, that excessive actions are avoided. Kollaritsch counts the extended school closures during the pandemic among these. “Every fire department does disaster drills. Let’s prepare ourselves.”
- source: profil.at/picture: pixabay.com
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