Andrea Steiner, MD, is the Chief occupational health physician at the University of Jena.
Did you get vaccinated? And if yes: for what reason?
I have already been vaccinated since January 2021. From my point of view, there are many good reasons for this. The most important is that I am convinced of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccination. Secondly, my team at the University Hospital was closely involved in all areas of staff protection, such as swab collection, contact tracing and, last but not least, staff vaccination, and was therefore part of the particularly exposed group. There is also the protection of my family, especially my children.
What do you tell students who are still hesitant to get vaccinated?
The decision whether to vaccinate is always an individual weighing of benefits and risks.
Overall, vaccination reactions are rare regardless of the type of vaccine, i.e. mRNA or vector vaccine, and the protective effect of the vaccination is significantly better than, for example, with the flu vaccination.
COVID-19 does not only affect the elderly and the previously ill. At the University Hospital, we have also cared for young people with severe courses and intensive care unit stays. In addition to these severe courses of the disease, the long COVID syndrome with symptoms lasting for months such as concentration disorders, fatigue and reduced physical performance is a not uncommon complication of the disease that also affects young adults.
And last but not least, vaccinated people have a significantly lower risk of infecting others and therefore also enjoy privileges in social life or when travelling.
To sum up, in my view there are thus more reasons in favour of vaccination than against it.
What vaccination offers does the Occupational Health Service make to the different groups of people at the university and hospital?
At the beginning of the year, we could only vaccinate after prioritisation by the Robert Koch Institute. First the clinic staff on the COVID wards and in emergency medicine, later all areas with patient care and critical infrastructure. Again and again, we also struggled with the delivery problems of the vaccine manufacturers. Added to this were the sinus vein thromboses that occurred with the vector vaccines and the associated different recommendations for the age groups. For this reason, we have sometimes supervised and vaccinated all vaccination schemes in parallel – i.e. homologous vaccinations with mRNA and vector vaccinations as well as the heterologous vaccination scheme with the first vaccination vector-based and the second vaccination mRNA-based.
With the abolition of prioritisation, company doctors were allowed to vaccinate all groups of people from June onwards, and so employees of Friedrich Schiller University and soon also students could be vaccinated. Currently, vaccine is readily available and we can offer vaccination to all employees and students who have not yet been vaccinated.
Are there really good reasons NOT to get vaccinated?
There are only a few good reasons not to get vaccinated. These are determined on the one hand by the approval of the vaccines and on the other hand by individual pre-existing conditions.
Currently, the vaccines have no approval for pregnant women in the first twelve weeks and for children under twelve years of age.
Apart from acute high-fever infections, there are hardly any contraindications for vaccination. In the case of acute or chronic illnesses, however, the benefits and risks should be weighed up with the attending specialist in an individual consultation.
What do you expect for autumn/winter?
This is an interesting but difficult question to answer. Already in the last few days we are seeing a clear increase in the number of cases in Germany, which is due to the delta variant and the travelers returning, among other things. We already had a similar development last year after the holiday/holiday season in summer. In addition, there is always an increase in colds in the autumn and winter months.
However, I hope that with continued good vaccination readiness and, above all, protection of vulnerable groups, the number of cases will rise again, but that severe courses with hospitalisation will remain rare.
Will Corona remain an ongoing issue for the occupational health service?
I believe that Corona will remain an issue because the virus will not disappear. Third vaccination is already being discussed and I expect that in the future we will have booster vaccinations in a similar way to influenza.
The interview was held on 20 August 2021.