Ljubljana – About a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, the EU is better prepared to the crisis than at the beginning and better coordinated, agreed participants of Friday’s online debate hosted by the office of the European Parliament in Slovenia. Currently, the EU has high hopes of Covid-19 vaccines but is faced with problems in their supply, they said.
The process of vaccination is slower than expected, said Stefan Schreck from the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety at the European Commission. But still, he believes EU countries agreeing they will negotiate on the vaccines together and not individually was a great success.
The importance of a common and solidarity-based EU policy on vaccines was also stressed by Slovenian MEPs Milen Brglez, Ljudmila Novak and Klemen Grošelj.
Schrek said that until 25 February, 10.6% of EU citizens had received the first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine but if 70% of the population was to be immunised by summer the process would have to be sped up. This is a very ambitious yet realistic goal, he said.
Roman Jerala, the head of the National Chemistry Institute’s synthetic biology and immunology department, agreed this goal could be achieved. But only if pharmaceutical companies honour their commitments to the EU and if the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is also approved soon.
Schrek said the problems with the supply of vaccines stemmed from the lack of production capacities, so the Commission had set up a task force for dealing with problems related to the production of vaccines.
Mario Fafangel, the head of the Centre for Communicable Diseases at the National Institute of Public Health, said the effects of the vaccination on the international level were already showing in lower mortality and hospitalisations rates, which helped maintain health systems sustainable.
From this aspect, the “current goal of vaccination has been achieved”, she said, adding though that the spreading of infections still needed to be slowed down, especially as new strains were emerging.
He agreed with Jerala, who said that vaccines could contribute to stopping the spreading of new strains but only if the spreading is prevented in the first phase with non-pharmaceutical measures. “If we had problems containing the epidemic with the old strain, how are we going to cope with a strain that is 30% more contagious,” Jerala wondered.
Commenting on non-pharmaceutical measures, Fafangel said they were not efficient if people did not find them acceptable and understandable.
In this respect, trust and communication among decision-makers, experts and citizens is extremely important, he said. One of the measures he believes the EU should introduce is a Covid-19 testing as a public health measures.
The option of conducting the test at home should be considered, as these tests are less invasive and they empower people to get tested more often. “This kind of testing gives an individual control over the epidemic, over what is happening to them. Now you can only wait to see what happens and you’re passive,” said Fafangel.
Fafangel, Jerala and Samo Zver, the head of the Haematology Department at the Ljubljana UKC hospital, agreed that the epidemic and its consequences should be seen as a part of a bigger picture. The healthcare and health should also be seen from the perspective of other diseases, training of staff, and conducting of research that helps cure diseases, they said.