European public health agency urges hospitals to prepare for a foreseeable explosion of cases | Society

A waiter checks the vaccination certificate of a client in a bar in San Sebastián.
A waiter checks the vaccination certificate of a client in a bar in San Sebastián.ANDER GILLENEA (AFP)

The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) has issued a very serious warning on Wednesday about the risks faced by the countries of the continent due to the irruption of the omicron variant. The agency considers that community transmission is already underway and predicts an explosion of cases in the coming weeks due to the greater transmissibility of the new form of the virus and its ability to escape the defenses developed thanks to vaccines. All this, he adds, will aggravate the delicate epidemiological situation that is already causing the delta variant.

Faced with this worrying scenario, the European health agency considers it “urgent” to accelerate the rate of vaccination —immunization continues to be the best defense to reduce the most serious cases—; maintain or recover measures such as the widespread use of masks and the limitation of social interactions; and prepare hospitals and health facilities for the foreseeable significant increase in healthcare pressure.

The ECDC considers the risk “very high” in all the parameters analyzed: that of the omicron variant spreading strongly, that of causing a strong impact on health systems and that of increasing severe cases of covid and deaths . “Even if the severity of the new cases is equal to or less than that of the delta, the higher transmissibility and the expected exponential growth of cases will outweigh any benefits that lower virulence may bring. Therefore, it is foreseeable that the omicron will cause more hospitalizations and deaths than those already contemplated in the forecasts that have only taken the delta into account ”, states the risk report published by the agency.

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The European public health agency emphasizes that, although preliminary, the first reports point to a significant increase in the transmission capacity of the new form of the virus and less protection of the immune response achieved by the population thanks to vaccines or an infection natural already passed. This will contribute to the omicron variant becoming the majority throughout Europe, at least during the first two months of 2022.

Despite the greater vaccine escape of the omicron variant, the ECDC considers that the available evidence, although incipient and not free of certain uncertainty, shows that the booster doses “will increase the protection of citizens” both against it and the delta, Therefore, it is recommended to shorten the administration of the third puncture to three months compared to the second compared to the current six months. “Available data shows that it is safe and effective to administer the third dose as early as three months” from the second, the report says.

The mathematical models used by the ECDC “show that it is necessary to reduce significantly and immediately” social interactions to “avoid a large increase in cases and maintain manageable levels” the burden of care that the health systems will bear and the death toll. Non-pharmaceutical measures must be applied “without delay” with the aim of “slowing down the spread of the omicron variant and giving countries time to advance vaccination plans”, because otherwise the high levels of transmission “could quickly overwhelm to health systems ”.

These measures should include, according to the ECDC, “avoiding large public or private gatherings”, “reducing social contacts in work centers or places of social gathering”, the extension of “teleworking”, increasing diagnostic tests to the population. “And the” tracing of close contacts of positive cases. “

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The report also calls for the preparation of “immediate plans to increase the capacity of hospitals”, which “must be readjusted to the epidemiological data that are becoming known on the severity of cases caused by the new variant.”

The ECDC considers that “testing all people with symptoms, regardless of their vaccination status, as well as the isolation of positive cases remains important to slow down the circulation of the virus.” “Diagnostic strategies must be flexible and rapidly adaptable to the epidemiological situation and available resources,” continues the agency, insisting that “surveillance through genetic sequencing continues to be of great importance for rapid detection of the omicron variant and follow-up of the situation”.

After hearing the ECDC report, the European Commission has warned that “difficult months” are coming. “It is likely that omicron will come in a great wave, generating new pressure on health systems”, which makes it necessary to adopt “strong” measures, the European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a statement. “Member States must make the right decisions based on science and with public health as a priority. Everyone must immediately plan to increase health care capacity, ensure that public health measures are reintroduced and strengthened, and that vaccines are scaled up rapidly, ”the commissioner concluded.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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