The Slovenia Times

New push for vaccination as Omicron prevails


Ljubljana - Health Minister Janez Poklukar announced a new vaccination campaign for later this week as the country braces for a surge in the Omicron-driven wave of infections and potential disruption after the new extremely infectious variant has prevailed.

"Omicron has practically supplanted Delta in a good fortnight. It no longer makes sense counting the cases as all confirmed cases are likely infected with the Omicron variant," Poklukar told reporters on Monday.

He said microbiologists and virologists had not yet seen such rapid replacement by a more virulent variant, warning the country would be put to organisational challenges in the coming weeks as the virus "floods the population".

He repeated that the best defence against Omicron and hospitalisation is vaccination, noting that 73% of the 572 patients currently hospitalised with Covid-19 and 85% of the 157 in intensive care were unvaccinated. He also noted the risk of long Covid.

"We're entering the 5th wave with a low vaccination rate, overstretched hospitals and exhausted staff," he said.

In a bid to get as many people as possible vaccinated with first, second and booster jabs, vaccination centres will be again open from 8am to 8pm between Thursday and Saturday with no prior appointments required.

Like in the similar campaign ahead of Christmas, the effort will be joined by public and private health care providers, dentists, local communities, civil protection and the Red Cross.

The new vaccination campaign comes before the Covid pass becomes limited to 9 months starting from 1 February, so the minister urged people to take up the invitation to avoid crowds at the end of the month.

Franc Strle, an expert on internal medicine and infectious diseases, said vaccination was not expected to "convincingly reduce the spread of the virus, but it will convincingly reduce the share of those who will need treatment in hospital".

According to Poklukar, nine patients with Omicron are being treated in hospitals with at least four of them requiring hospitalisation due to other conditions than Covid-19.

Vaccination is also recommended to those who have recovered from Covid-19 with the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation advising a jab within one to six months after recovery and within three to six months for the vaccinated recovered.

The fully vaccinated who have not had Covid yet are now advised to get a booster after a three-month break following the full inoculation.

Data from the National Institute of Public Health shows 57% of Slovenia's population has been fully vaccinated and 59% have had their first shot. Almost 505,000 have had boosters, according to the government.

Asked about the cost of testing, Poklukar said rapid tests would likely be made self-paid following the peak of the fifth wave. "The concept proposed will be the one we had before the fourth wave when the rapid tests were payable [...] save for exemptions."

Rapid and PCR tests have so far cost the state almost EUR 160 million, money that could be spent on investment in healthcare. The minister noted the planned new department of infectious diseases at UKC Ljubljana would come at the cost of EUR 100 million to the state budget.


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