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Irena Grmek Košnik: High vaccination coverage brings us closer to the end of the pandemic

A press conference on the current situation regarding COVID-19 was attended by Dr Irena Grmek Košnik, epidemiologist of the National Institute of Public Health’s Kranj Regional Unit.

Maja Bratuša opened the press conference by presenting the latest epidemiological data. A total of 1,440 PCR tests and 7,320 rapid antigen tests were conducted yesterday. The PCR tests confirmed 285 new cases; 19.8% of all PCR tests were positive.

A total of 426 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalised, of which 108 are in intensive care units. Yesterday, 46 new patients were admitted and 35 were admitted on Saturday. In total, 81 COVID-19-related admissions were recorded over the weekend and 27 people were discharged. Five people died both yesterday and on Saturday.

The number of occupied hospital beds is still on the rise and the situation in Slovenian hospitals is similar to that in mid-May. On 14 May, 318 beds were occupied in general wards, the same number as today, and 125 beds were occupied in intensive care units, 17 more than today.

Dr Irena Grmek Košnik spoke about the impact of vaccination on the epidemiological situation. In her introduction, she pointed out that by 24 September 2021, the World Health Organization had reported 230 million confirmed cases of infection and 4.7 million deaths. According to experts, the number of deaths is two to three times higher than reported. Ms Grmek Košnik finds it encouraging that we have used 5.8 billion doses of vaccines in this period.

The map of 14-day case notification rate per 100,000 people in Europe in weeks 36 and 37 shows Europe as red and Slovenia as dark red. At the end of week 37, the EU recorded a high, slowly decreasing overall case rate and a low and stable death rate, with these trends forecast to continue over the next two weeks. Ms Grmek Košnik added that it was anticipated that the number of hospitalisations and intensive care unit admissions would remain stable.

The number of confirmed cases in the most affected age group (from 15- to 24-year-olds) continues to decline. After the recent increase, the number of cases among children younger than 15 has begun to stabilise. The picture varies considerably at the Member State level. The infection rate is increasing in the eastern parts of the EU.

For week 37, the epidemiological situation in Europe overall was categorised as of low concern, while she emphasised that Slovenia and Lithuania stand out as two countries of very high concern.

The vaccination efforts across Europe are progressing well. However, Slovenia lagged behind in terms of vaccination, stressed Ms Grmek Košnik.

Ms Grmek Košnik also spoke about booster shots, for which there is no registered vaccine yet. In August, Slovenia recommended the booster shot to immunocompromised and chronically ill patients. The booster shoot is to be administered six months after the completion of the primary series. The recommended vaccine for the booster dose is an mRNA vaccine. Booster shots provide mucosal immunity, which prevents transmission. She emphasised that vaccination in adults is crucial for children's health.

In Slovenia, the booster shot has also been recommended for the residents of homes for the elderly, persons aged 70 and older, vulnerable chronically ill persons and for all others who would wish to receive it.

At some point, the virus will join the handful of human coronaviruses that cause the common cold, especially in winter when conditions favour their transmission, said Ms Grmek Košnik. She ended her presentation by calling on people to get vaccinated and emphasised that good vaccination coverage would mean that the end of the pandemic would be within sight.