The Slovenia Times

Minister points to lack of vaccination culture, solidarity

Health & Medicine

Ljubljana - Health Minister Janez Poklukar has told the STA that there would be no talk about restrictive measures, but about Slovenia opening up, if a 70% rate of vaccination against Covid-19 was achieved. He sees many reasons for a low vaccination rate, including the lack of vaccination culture and solidarity.

"The fact is that forecasts are not good, and we need to stop the epidemic together, otherwise we will [stop it] with really drastic measures and no one wants that," the minister said in an interview.

Despite Slovenia having a healthcare system based on the principle of solidarity, this is what is missing when it comes to vaccination, the minister believes. "Solidarity means that you get vaccinated for those who cannot."

Not everybody in Slovenia understands this," Poklukar said, while expressing the belief that it is still not too late to achieve a sufficiently high vaccination rate in Slovenia and that general practitioners could play an important role in this.

"I believe that no general practitioner has given up on any of their patients, even if they have not been vaccinated yet. There are opportunities for everyone, there is enough vaccine for everyone," he said.

According to Poklukar, the key is to compensate in September for what had been missed earlier. "Under all scenarios, only 70% vaccination rate keeps us below the level where drastic measures are needed."

The minister stressed that western European countries were relaxing measures because they had achieved the 70% vaccination rate, which was due to the awareness that "this is not only contribution to the healthcare system."

This is of key importance in all segments of society, from culture and education to the economy, where jobs and wages are being preserved, he added.

"Slovenians still perceive the epidemic as a healthcare problem, which it is not. The epidemic is a social problem. Healthcare is only facing its consequences," the minister noted.

The stakeholders are still mulling what measures to take next week. "This is not simple. Measures need to be proportionate ... and on the other hand they need to be implementable," Poklukar said.

He would not reveal what kind of measures will be included in the new traffic light system, saying only that the objective was that the closure of the country and restrictive measures would not be applied for vaccinated people.

If the hospitalisation ratio is one vaccinated person per three unvaccinated persons, this means that in the case of a higher vaccination rate not 200-240 people would need hospitalisation, but only 80. "This is a big difference."

The fact is that the vaccine is not 100% efficient and that the protection rate declines with time. This is why the level of protection with a third dose needs to be increased, as recently recommended by the national advisory task force.

"I would like to see those who got vaccinated before March get another jab, as well as all persons older than 70 who are at the highest risk get another jab as soon as possible," he said, adding that he himself was also getting a third jab.

Asked about the possibility of mandatory vaccination for certain groups, he said one should be aware of the consequences of such measures. This also opens the question of which measures to take against those who would still not get vaccinated.

The goal is to take measures that are implementable and that will not create additional tensions, Poklukar said, while noting that he had been receiving many calls from people who think that unvaccinated people enjoy positive discrimination.

The minister expects answers to such questions also from the human rights ombudsman and other institutions that can take legitimate positions on the protection of human rights.

Poklukar also responded to the criticism from the former director of the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) Ivan Er┼żen about epidemiologists allegedly being completely ignored in the fight against the epidemic.

"When we speak about a circle of experts who have competences for managing the epidemic, infectious disease specialist, microbiologists and epidemiologists, who are trying to manage the contexts of the spreading of the disease, are certainly at the forefront."

However, the minister noted that epidemiologists had no knowledge about hospitals and the disease itself as infectiologist and microbiologists do, adding that general practitioners and social science experts had also been included in the task force.

Poklukar assesses that various aspects have been covered well, and that various experts have been trying to get their views of the epidemic promoted as much as possible.

"You can imagine that, eventually, you have as many opinions in the task force as there are specialities. Nevertheless, in the end they provide an opinion that is coordinated to the greatest possible extent so that we can take further measures."

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