Mika Salminen, the director of health security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), shed light on the underlying characteristics of the coronavirus situation in Finland at a press conference in Helsinki on Wednesday, 27 July 2022. (Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva)

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COVID-19 VACCINES may have already saved around 10,000 lives in Finland in 2022, estimates Mika Salminen, the health security chief at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Salminen underscored in a news conference yesterday that the number is strictly an estimate but highlighted that the mortality risk associated with the coronavirus disease has decreased noticeably as a result of vaccinations, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

Officials at THL reminded that tallying the number of deaths is hardly straightforward as almost 90 per cent of reported coronavirus-related deaths have multiple causes of death.

Markku Peltonen, a research professor at THL, estimated that the coronavirus caused roughly 2,000–4,000 excess deaths in 2020–2021. The number of deaths, he reminded, had been on the increase already before the pandemic for reasons related to the size and age structure of the population.

The incidence of coronavirus infections is rising in several hospital districts due to the emergence of BA.5, the latest highly transmissible sub-variant of the omicron variant. While the number of patients in special health care has also crept up marginally following a longer-term decline, no such growth has been detected in intensive care units.

This indicates that patients are no longer developing as severe symptoms as before, according to Salminen.

He said that because it has proven impossible to obtain permanent protection against the virus, infections will continue to “come and go in waves” around the world due to the emergence of new variants capable of evading natural and vaccine-induced immunity. The new coronavirus has thus moved from a pandemic to an endemic, meaning it will continue to pop up all over the world and cause recurring epidemics associated with seasonal variation.

“We’re no longer really talking about preparedness but about adaptation,” he remarked.

Salminen predicted that the virus will continue to put an additional strain on the health care system compared to the situation before the pandemic. It is thus important that the central administration recognises that additional resources will be required in the winter to treat a higher number of patients.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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