Lasse Lehtonen, Helsinki, 02.11.2020
Lasse Lehtonen, file photo from 2020.

Image: Antti Haanpää / Yle

The distribution of Covid vaccinations in Finland has slowed down, and as of this week there were still roughly 730,000 people over the age of 12 who have not yet sought their jabs.

Some of the unvaccinated work in the healthcare sector, which Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district’s (HUS’s) diagnostic services director, Lasse Lehtonen, finds problematic.

According to him, it would be justifiable to require those workers to take Covid vaccines.

Making the comments on Yle TV1’s breakfast programme, he noted that he was not a big supporter of such coercion.

“Using a Covid pass in healthcare settings could be a good solution,” referring to Finland’s recently-introduced system that ensures people have been fully vaccinated against Covid, have recently tested negative for the disease, or have recovered from it.

“Then, we could ensure that those caring for sensitive patients, for example, have been adequately protected by being vaccinated,” he explained, adding that unvaccinated healthcare workers who treat patients are comparable to surgeons performing procedures on patients without wearing face masks or surgical gloves.

“[Healthcare staff] being unvaccinated significantly increases the risk of patients becoming ill and endangers patient safety,” he said.

Mandated vaccines have worked in the past

Lehtonen noted that the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has suggested that physicians and nurses use Covid passes when they come to work, saying such a practice was also justified.

He said that mandatory vaccinations have worked for Finland in the past, referring to the smallpox vaccine in the 1920s and tuberculosis vaccine in the 1950s.

“By mandating vaccination, these serious diseases were eradicated. However, I believe that Finns are now smart enough that we will also get adequate vaccination coverage against coronavirus as well,” he said.

On the same morning show on Friday, the Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Kirsi Varhila, said Finland should find increasingly creative ways to encourage people to get vaccinated. One suggestion she proposed was to organise vaccination buses in sparsely populated areas, saying that reaching young adults was particularly important.

“For example, we have advertised on the [online dating site] Tinder. Vaccines should be available as easily as possible, reaching young people where they are — whether it’s a football or hockey match,” she said.

The ministry has also considered sending text messages to people who haven’t been vaccinated yet, but there are data protection laws regarding personal medical information which would pose legal problems.

Such data laws do, however, allow for a text message to be sent to all of the country’s residents, and the matter is still being considered by ministry officials.

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