The European Commissioner for Health, the Cypriot Stella Kyriakides (Nicosia, 1956), continues to conduct interviews online almost two years after the start of the pandemic, perhaps the best summary of her vision of the current situation: “We are seeing a transmissibility very high omicron”, Kyriakides starts in an interview granted this Wednesday to EL PAÍS together with a small group of European media. She is in Strasbourg, where this Thursday the plenary session of the European Parliament has endorsed one of her initiatives, that of providing greater powers, competences and resources to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in the face of future health crises. The current situation, says the commissioner, is still potentially “serious for health systems”. The new mutation of the virus “may be mild in terms of infections for individuals, but should not be considered a mild variant at all.”
The omicron has already been identified in all the countries of the EU and the European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), according to the latest weekly report from the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC). Between December 20, 2021 and January 2, 2022, 21 European countries with “adequate sequencing volume” reported an estimated prevalence of omicron of 46.4%, “double that of the previous week”, describes this organism.
“It is still a dangerous virus,” Kyriakides resumes the thread. “The weight of the numbers that we are seeing is enough to overwhelm many health systems, and now we are seeing an increase in hospitalizations, for example, in the United States with a number of younger patients and especially children coming into the hospital. ”.
In this context of “coexistence” between the new viral modality and the previous one (the delta) it is not all bad news. “We know that the vaccines continue to offer good levels of protection against serious illness and hospitalization when it comes to the omicron, especially with the booster dose,” stresses the Cypriot. Although, taking into account the information from the ECDC, “an increase in hospital admissions is expected in several countries, particularly among the unvaccinated group and especially children”, the commissioner also values other health data: “We have had stability in the Figures for mortality rate and ICU admissions for six weeks.
In the EU, almost 70% of the population is fully vaccinated, close to 40% have received the booster shot (and up to 46% among adults) and around 23% of those under 18 have been protected with at least one dose. “We have not yet reached a level of vaccination in the EU that is sufficient to protect us from the omicron,” weighs Kyriakides. “Millions of Europeans remain unvaccinated […] and it is increasingly clear that the Member States that are going to suffer the most are those with the lowest vaccination rates.”
On the arrival of a new generation of vials adapted to the omicron, ditch: “It is crucial to get vaccinated and inoculate the booster now: no one should be led to believe that they should wait for a better vaccine in the future. The best vaccine is the one we can give now. And, going forward, we will make sure that other adaptations are produced and approved as soon as possible, if necessary.” Nor does it rule out that more punctures will be prescribed, although it must be combined with other priorities: “The discussion of the fourth dose is underway,” he asserts, “but I am not going to give up the millions of Europeans who are not protected.”
As for the “second line of defense” against covid, the commissioner advances that the EMA plans to approve next week the use of Pfizer’s oral pill against the coronavirus, which reduces hospitalizations and deaths by 90% in seriously ill (in the United States it received the green light in December); The oral anti-virus from the pharmaceutical company Merck, adds Kyriakides, will have its turn in February.
It is early to venture an end to the health crisis: “I have seen many turns throughout this pandemic, so I will not make predictions about whether this is going to be the last wave or not,” he clears. “Variants are an ever-present threat to our return to normalcy and can change the course of the pandemic very quickly.” At the same time, it is becoming inevitable to think that the EU is in one of those moments when the covid ball seems to have hit the net, and now, following the tennis simile, the virus could hit any side of the court. : either continue causing the collapse of health systems and killing people or become an endemic disease, vaccinated through, allowing citizens to live with the virus.
Some countries, such as Spain, are leading an advance of States that are already studying the transition to almost normality, with a surveillance system that treats covid in a similar way to the flu, without a detailed count of cases or testing systems at the slightest symptom. ; observing it as another respiratory disease.
Kyriakides concedes that the omicron situation “might require a more pragmatic approach taken to ensure key sectors continue to function while minimizing risk to citizens”, and refers to the latest ECDC guidance, which provides further insight. lax, with proposals that include “shorter quarantine periods” and “carrying out rapid antigen detection tests to release patients from quarantine,” according to the text. “The ECDC guidelines aim to balance scientific evidence with a pragmatic approach”, explains the curator; these guidelines, he adds trying to maintain that balance in his words, assess “the rapid spread of omicron, which also depends on the vaccination status of national health systems” and at the same time “how member states conceive quarantines and isolation according to its epidemiological realities.
Speaking of tennis, the Cypriot does not avoid evaluating the recent episode of the number one in this sport, who was deported from Australia this week after a tragicomedy typical of this new normality. “The discussion about Novak Djokovic prevailed over the discussion about the Australian Open itself in recent days,” he laments. Now that France has confirmed that the Serbian will also not be able to play Roland Garros if he does not get vaccinated (the full guideline will be required, just like the spectators and the rest of the professionals involved), Kyriakides affirms: “The way in which the Member States decide how they are going to deal with access to sporting, cultural and leisure events is something that the Member States will decide”. And he added: “Where there are rules, they have to be followed by everyone”.
Then he insists, for the last time during the interview, on the importance of convincing “with clear messages” the entire population to get vaccinated: “It is the science and it is the numbers that speak. And if we look at what is happening now, with these figures [de contagios] record, to a large extent it is the unvaccinated who are in hospitals; they are losing their lives and are seriously ill”, concludes the police station. “Until covid becomes possibly endemic, we have to understand that it is a dangerous virus and we have to protect ourselves, our communities, and also protect ourselves against all emerging variants.”
In this sense, he adds, perhaps there will have to be a discussion about the legal imposition of the vaccine, a path that several countries, such as Austria, Greece and Italy, have undertaken. “Persuasion is always better than coercion,” weighs Kyriakides. “But in view of the pressure that the virus is putting on health systems, there may be a need to discuss mandatory vaccination. Although Brussels cannot tell the Member States to oblige to vaccinate. They are the best ones to decide.”
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