The European Commissioner for Health, Cypriot Stella Kyriakides (Nicosia, 1956), continues to conduct online interviews almost two years after the start of the pandemic, perhaps the best summary of her vision of the current situation: “We see a very high omicron permeability‘ begins Kyriakides in an interview granted to EL PAÍS this Wednesday along with a small group of European media. She is in Strasbourg, where this Thursday’s plenary session of the European Parliament approved one of her initiatives, namely to give the European Medicines Agency (EMA) more powers, competencies and resources in the face of future health crises. The current situation, says the commissioner, remains potentially “serious for healthcare systems”. The new mutation of the virus “may be mild in terms of infection for individuals, but should not be considered a mild variant at all.”
The omicron has already been identified in all countries of the EU and European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), according to the latest weekly report of the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC). Between December 20, 2021 and January 2, 2022, 21 European countries with “reasonable sequencing volume” reported an estimated prevalence of omicron of 46.4%, “double the previous week” describes this organism.
“It’s still a dangerous virus,” Kyriakides resumes the thread. “The weight of the numbers we’re seeing is enough to overwhelm many healthcare systems, and now, for example, in the United States we’re seeing an increase in hospital admissions, with a number of younger patients, and particularly children, coming into the hospital.”
In this context of “coexistence” between the new viral modality and the previous one (the delta), this is not all bad news. “We know that the vaccines continue to offer good protection against serious illness and hospitalization when it comes to the omicron, especially for the booster dose,” emphasizes the Cypriot. Although taking into account the information from the ECDC, “an increase in hospital admissions is to be expected in several countries, particularly in the unvaccinated group and especially in children”, the Commissioner also assesses other health data: “We have stability in the numbers on mortality and admissions the intensive care unit for six weeks.
In the EU, Almost 70% of the population is fully vaccinated, nearly 40% received the booster injection (and up to 46% in adults) and about 23% of those under 18 were protected with at least one dose. “We have not yet reached a vaccination level in the EU that is sufficient to protect us from the omicron,” considers Kyriakides. “Millions of Europeans remain unvaccinated […] and it is becoming increasingly clear that the Member States that will suffer the most are those with the lowest vaccination rates.”
Commenting on the arrival of a new generation of vials adapted to the Omicron, Ditch said: “It is crucial to get vaccinated now and to inoculate the booster: nobody 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 in the future we will ensure that other adjustments are produced and approved as soon as possible, if necessary.” It also does not exclude the possibility of prescribing further punctures, although this must be combined with other priorities: “The discussion of the fourth Dose is underway,” he assures, “but I will not give up on the millions of Europeans who are not protected.”
Referring to the “second line of defense” against Covid, the Commissioner argues that the EMA plans to approve next week the use of Pfizer’s oral pill against the coronavirus, which reduces hospital admissions and deaths in the critically ill by 90% (received in the United States them green light in December); Pharma company Merck’s oral antivirus, adds Kyriakides, will have its turn in February.
It is early to dare an end to the health crisis: “I have seen many twists and turns during this pandemic, so I will not make any predictions as to whether this will be the last wave or not,” he clarifies. “Variants are an ever-present threat to our return to normal and can change the trajectory of the pandemic very quickly.” At the same time, it’s becoming inevitable to think that the EU is in one of those moments when the Covid ball has hit the net seems, and now, following the tennis parable, the virus could hit either side of the court. : either continue to cause health systems to collapse and kill people, or become an endemic disease that gets widely vaccinated and allows citizens to live with the virus.
Some countries, like Spain, are leading a vanguard of states You are already studying the transition to an almost normality, with a surveillance system that treats Covid similarly to the flu, with no detailed counting of cases or testing systems at the slightest symptom; Observation as another respiratory disease.
Kyriakides acknowledges that the Omicron situation “may require a more pragmatic approach to ensure key sectors continue to function while minimizing risk to citizens” and points to the latest ECDC guidance, which offers further insight, with suggestions , which include “shorter quarantine deadlines” and “conducting rapid antigen testing to discharge patients from quarantine,” the text reads. “The ECDC guidelines aim to reconcile scientific evidence with a pragmatic approach,” explains the curator; These guidelines, he adds, attempted to maintain that balance, in his words, assessing “the rapid spread of Omicron, which also depends on the vaccination status of national health systems” while “how Member States are designing quarantines and isolation according to epidemiological realities.”
Speaking of tennis, the Cypriot does not avoid evaluating the latest episode of the number one in this sport, deported from Australia this week after a tragic comedy typical of this new normal. “The discussion about Novak Djokovic has outweighed the discussion about the Australian Open itself in the last few days,” he complains. Now that France has confirmed that the Serb will also not be able to play at Roland Garros without vaccination (the full directive is needed, as are the spectators and the rest of the professionals involved), Kyriakides reiterates: “The way in which member states decide how managing access to sporting, cultural and recreational events is a matter for Member States”. And he added: “Where there are rules, everyone has to follow them.”
Then he emphasizes one last time during the interview how important it is to convince the entire population “with clear messages” to get vaccinated: “It’s the science and it’s the numbers that speak. And if we look at what’s happening now, with those numbers [de contagios] Record, to a large extent it’s the unvaccinated who are in hospitals; They are losing their lives and are seriously ill,” the police station concludes. “Until Covid becomes potentially endemic, we need to understand that it is a dangerous virus and we need to protect ourselves, our communities and ourselves from any variants that may arise.”
With that in mind, he adds, perhaps a discussion needs to be had about legalizing the vaccine, a path taken by several countries such as Austria, Greece and Italy. “Persuasion is always better than coercion,” says Kyriakides. “But given the pressure the virus is putting on healthcare systems, it may be necessary to discuss compulsory vaccination. Although Brussels cannot tell member states that they should be obliged to vaccinate. You decide best.”