Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Mika Salminen, the head of health security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), at a government press conference in Helsinki on 25 March 2021. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)

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THE FINNISH INSTITUTE for Health and Welfare (THL) has expressed its disapproval with various aspects of the newly unveiled government proposal on the coronavirus pass and testing at border-crossing points.

YLE on Thursday revealed THL has called attention to several inconsistencies in a statement submitted to the Parliament’s Social Affairs and Health Committee.

THL, the public broadcasting company wrote, is of the view that extending the current entry restrictions until the end of the year is clearly questionable from an epidemiological and medical perspective, given the rising vaccine uptake in Finland and Europe. The protection provided by vaccinations and infections stop the disease from spreading effectively.

Finland presently obliges arriving passengers to get tested for the virus unless they are in possession of a certificate of a full vaccination coverage, recovery from the coronavirus disease in the past six months or a negative result from a test taken before arrival.

Other arrivals are obliged to get tested, once or twice, upon arrival.

The epidemiological situation, however, has developed to the extent that it is no longer necessary to require that passengers take a second test three to five days after arrival, viewed THL. It believes the rules should be amended to state that passengers are required to get tested before departure or within 24 hours or arrival.

It also believes the government should complement its list of accepted vaccines with the Russian-made Sputnik V. THL pointed out in a statement issued earlier this month that studies indicate that the vaccine is as effective as the other two vaccines developed with the same technology that have been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – the vaccines by AstraZeneca and Jansen.

“THL does not believe Sputnik V recipients pose a risk of the coronavirus epidemic exacerbating in Finland,” the statement read.

While the safety of the vaccine remains under investigation by both the EMA and World Health Organisation (WHO), the question of safety is not particularly relevant in this context, reminded Otto Helve, the head of a department at THL, stated to YLE.

“When we’re talking about people who have already received the vaccine, this safety dimension in this process is a bit irrelevant. It’s more a question of what’s the vaccine’s efficacy,” he commented.

THL also questioned the decision to apply the coronavirus pass to 12-year-olds and older, highlighting that it could force unvaccinated children to get tested several times a week in order to take part in free-time activities. The age limit, it estimated, should be raised to 16 to align it with the requirements on people arriving to the country.

The government proposal states that the pass can be obtained on grounds of full vaccination, recovery from the coronavirus disease or a negative test result.

The age limit proposed for the pass also appears to contradict the recent decision to relax the testing requirements on children, the children-and-youth-first principle trumpeted by the government, and the government estimate that it is unlikely that the activities of under 16-year-olds will have to be restricted.

THL expressed its disapproval that no thorough investigation into the effects of the proposal on children has been carried out.

The institute also proposed that coronavirus vaccines be added to the list of vaccines that are mandatory for social and health care professionals who work with patients vulnerable to communicable diseases.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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