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83 percent vaccinated, yet measures: ‘The problem is IC capacity’

Although fewer corona patients are in IC than during previous waves, the situation in hospitals is serious. The number of infections is increasing and more and more patients end up on IC. The outgoing cabinet is therefore considering new measures.

According to epidemiologist Patricia Bruijning, additional measures are not being considered because the hospitals would not be able to handle it. The point is that the numbers are rising faster than expected. “That’s the reason to talk about new measures.”

“Our predictions for the current period were apparently too optimistic and with that the uncertainty for the coming months has become much greater. If things go faster than predicted, where will it go?”

Number of corona infections is rising sharply

The number of new reported corona cases rose again last week. 38,733 new positive tests have been registered in the past seven days. That is 50 percent more than last week. At that time there were still 25,751 new corona cases.

Hospital occupancy also increased significantly last week, according to the latest figures from RIVM and the National Coordination Center for Patient Distribution. The percentage of positive tests also rose: from 12 percent last week to 15.3 percent this week.

On Thursday, the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) will provide advice. Outgoing corona minister Hugo de Jonge does not want to anticipate this.

“New measures are unavoidable,” says professor of health economics Marcel Canoy. According to him, the real problem is the limited IC capacity, but that staff shortage cannot be easily remedied. “You can’t get a thousand ICU nurses with a magic button,” he says.

And so, according to Canoy, you have to look at what is possible. “For example, you can reintroduce the mask obligation or the one and a half meter rule, or ensure better compliance with the corona pass. We know that these measures are effective and can prevent a lockdown.”

You can also see whether local policy is possible, he says, in places where few people are vaccinated, such as Staphorst or Urk. “That may not be 100 percent effective, but every little bit helps.”

Unvaccinated

Bruijning adds: “When you are talking about which measures are the most efficient, it makes sense to focus them on people who have the most chance of ending up in ICU, such as unvaccinated older people. If they do not yet have immunity against the virus, through a vaccination or previous infection, they have the best chance of ending up on the IC.”

Figures from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) show that four out of five corona patients in the IC have not been vaccinated. Austria plans to introduce lockdowns for unvaccinated citizens if IC occupancy rises.

Canoy calls that ‘very extreme’. “You cannot relegate the unvaccinated to second-class citizens. Some of the unvaccinated are not against it in principle,” he says.

Polarization

According to Bruijning, every choice will lead to polarization. “It’s about what you want as a society. If you impose measures on vaccinated people, they will be angry at all those people who have not been vaccinated. And vice versa: then unvaccinated people are angry because they believe that there is discrimination.”

Health economist Canoy says that we should mainly look at what is possible within the current situation. “We know that the IC capacity in hospitals is the problematic factor: we can hardly scale up and it will remain that way. You have to accept that and at the same time look for the lightest measures to keep the virus in check.”

According to Bruijning, the solution is simple: more people should be vaccinated. “80 percent would not have been in the ICU if they had been vaccinated. Then we would not have had a capacity problem. So that’s where the profit lies. It’s a shame that we can’t convince those people.”

Future

But if that doesn’t happen, can we expect new measures every year? According to Bruijning, this is becoming less and less likely. “You can still get the virus if you are vaccinated, but it doesn’t really make you sick anymore. Your immune system even gets a boost. The coronavirus is then no more than a cold virus.”

Sooner or later everyone will come into contact with this virus and with time the number of people without any form of immunity will decrease. “But at the same time, there will always be a group that is susceptible to serious illness, just look at the flu. We can assume that we have to deal with a ‘corona wave’ every year, although it will be less high than before.”

Long-term

In the long term, you have to ask yourself which measures are still proportional to absorb the corona wave, says Bruijning. “Are we in the Netherlands still prepared to take measures in the winter months because we have a limited number of IC beds? We have never done that before the flu.”

“Or should we turn it around and make sure there’s enough capacity to handle future spikes?”

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