Priority strategies for Covid-19 vaccine
Once again, this months’ message is devoted to the pandemic. As of 21 February 2021, the cumulative Covid-19 vaccination doses administered in Europe per 100 citizens is in the order of 6%, with large differences across the region. Due to lack of sufficient vaccine supply, national authorities have adopted a priority strategy for certain target groups. The focus has primarily been on the following three main objectives: minimising death and severe illness due to Covid-19; minimising the spread of infection and epidemic control; and ensuring key societal functions. Although this sounds straightforward, the exact rollout of the vaccine has been done quite differently. At ECNP, we believe that mentally ill patients so far have largely been ignored in EU Covid vaccine strategies – despite such patients being highly vulnerable to contracting and dying from the disease. Recent work shows that having a psychiatric disorder increases the risk of Covid infection by 65%, and severely mentally ill patients are between 1.5 and 2 times more likely to die.
In a review presented in Lancet Psychiatry last Wednesday by ECNP’s Neuroinflammation Network it was found that out of 20 European countries surveyed for a study, only the Netherlands, Britain, Germany and Denmark have recognised severe mental illness as a high-risk medical condition and have made specific provisions for vaccinating patients. “These patients are completely disregarded in most vaccination plans, and this needs to change,” said Livia De Picker, a specialist at the University Psychiatric Hospital Campus Duffel in Belgium, who co-led the research.
The review was supported by several organisations and attracted massive media attention, with so far more than 300 press reports. Reuters syndicated the material, as did the Italian news agency ANSA. In the UK, the BBC reported briefly, as did the Telegraph and many other major media platforms across Europe. You can read the entire ECNP press release on https://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/256519.php.
It is great news that ECNP-supported scientists have been able to get this important message out there, and it is my hope that policy-makers all over the world will pay attention to this initiative, for the benefit of our patients.
Having said that, there is another issue of importance for us Europeans and for our College. There is no doubt that the scarcity and costs of the vaccines has become an obstacle to even distribution between nations. It is understandable that nationally elected politicians primarily feel they must safeguard their own citizens first. But in a global world, it is a major concern that the pandemic continues on other continents and that many countries do not have access to vaccines at all. It makes sense for more affluent countries to reach out and help the less affluent ones getting access to vaccines. The longer the pandemic is allowed to continue worldwide, the more likely it is that we will continue to see new and problematic virus mutations spread – mutations that will require constant surveillance and vaccine modifications. The virus does not care about borders and this is a concern when it comes to organising large international congresses. It is a challenge we are working hard to prepare for, making sure that for the upcoming ECNP Congress in October in Lisbon all appropriate solutions are in place onsite for a safe, healthy and rewarding meeting.
I hope you are all okay out there – stay well!
Gitte Moos Knudsen