Dr Petra Dickmann is Head of Public Health at the Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine at Jena University Hospital.
Did you get vaccinated? And if yes: for what reason?
Yes, of course: at the first opportunity. Since I work in the intensive care unit and also treat COVID-19 patients there, I was very happy to take the first opportunity for vaccination. For me, it was helpful to really learn everything about vaccination and the mechanism of action of mRNA vaccines. I have taken up training opportunities on this (including here from the UKJ who streamed a colleague giving a first class presentation with discussion). Fascinating that in such a short time it was possible to produce a range of safe and effective vaccines that are the way out of the pandemic!
I personally consider vaccination a blessing for humanity and a real advance in medicine. With the mRNA mode of action, I find it so interesting that this vaccine development was developed for decades in the field of cancer research with the aim of developing effective vaccines against cancer. Just imagine if this vaccine approach were to take the decisive step forward through its use and experience in the pandemic, and we might soon have vaccines against cancer as a result...?
What do you tell students who are still hesitant to get vaccinated?
Vaccination is the way out of the pandemic - we are now so deep into the pandemic that everyone will have contact with the virus: either in the form of vaccination or in the form of infection. Given the choice, I would of course recommend vaccination. However, in doing so, I would recommend students to insist on the mRNA vaccines (preferably BioN-Tech) because of the risk profile, even if this requires vaccination twice. I do not recommend AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson for the rather younger cohort of students.
The information on vaccines and the active principles is readily available for literate people - like students.
What could be learned from the first waves that is important now?
Through the first three waves, we have become better acquainted with the basic principles of the virological aspects and the social effects of the pandemic. For example, in the first waves we prevented particularly vulnerable groups from being defenceless against the virus with the lockdown and also the school closures. This principle has changed fundamentally with the availability of vaccines: Now there is no longer a need for a lockdown and school closures, which, by the way, had a dramatic negative effect on children, but for vaccination protection: starting with vulnerable risk groups and extending to society as a whole. Those who do not get vaccinated now are accepting infection. The older people are, the higher the risk of falling seriously ill. To prevent this, vaccination is needed - and no more lockdowns and school closures.
Medically speaking, we had medical progress in fast motion: We first assumed that COVID-19 patients come to the clinic with lung failure and that they "only" need to be lung-protected. Then we learned that the virus particularly attacks the endothelia, i.e. the vessel walls, and that in addition to lung failure, coagulation disorders with strokes and other organ damage also occur. In the meantime, we see COVID-19 more as a viral sepsis.
On a personal level, I have relearned the appreciation of what is supposedly taken for granted: i.e. the special nature of community with presence and interaction in groups; and the freedom to travel, which I have never personally experienced restricted. How I look forward to travelling again without restrictions, without testing and quarantine and all that clutter.
Have the social consequences of the measures for students been given too little attention?
Students are considered to be a robust social group. Even if there have been significant disruptions in their studies and also in their biography, it can be assumed that students are most likely to be able to compensate for these disturbances and disruptions. Students, due to their social position and cognitive capacity, are also most likely to make good and innovative suggestions on how to better deal with pandemics and other disruptions.
Are there really good reasons NOT to get vaccinated?
No. Vaccination is never dangerous. In some situations, vaccination simply does not work well, e.g. if you suffer from diseases that are treated with medication that weakens the immune system. The body then cannot build up the vaccine protection. Current studies have just come to the conclusion that you can establish the vaccination protection through triple vaccination, i.e. another booster. However, this is now rather very specific.
The short answer: No, there is no reason not to get vaccinated....
What do you expect for autumn/winter? And what should politics, society etc. do to achieve the highest possible vaccination rate?
Vaccination is the way out of the pandemic; therefore, the importance of vaccination should be communicated systematically and the acceptance of an offer of vaccination should be as easy as possible. It should be possible to get vaccinated virtually anywhere without any hurdles. This can also be organised within the framework of campaigns.
The fundamental opponents of vaccination will not be convinced with arguments and "outreach vaccination offers"; the undecided and the comfortable will be very well won over in this way. Financial incentives change the social contract: vaccination is always self-protection but also, in a special way, protection of others. In my opinion, the unvaccinated cannot expect to be able to participate without restrictions in the community that they actually reject with their decision against vaccination.
When will Corona only be a topic for specialists?
I have been dealing with infectious outbreaks and pandemics scientifically and hands-on long before this pandemic. It's a comfort zone for me, so to speak, and I'm still electrified by the fact that this pandemic is happening in my lifetime and hopefully I can tell my grandchildren about it. We learn as a society from these disruptions and stresses on our community. Corona may soon become an issue that only intensive care physicians are concerned with. At the same time, because of the climate crisis, globalisation, the proximity of humans and animals, we can expect more events of this global kind, so it certainly makes sense to develop some kind of pandemic competence or disruption competence, a resilience, for individuals as well as societies, nations and United Nations.
The interview was held on 13 August 2021.