Rector Dr. Béla Merkely highlighted the importance of booster shots due to the extreme infectiousness of the omicron variant. He pointed out that the third shot is expected to ease the severity of the symptoms caused by the virus in vaccinated patients, it is highly efficient in preventing the development of severe complications and it significantly reduces the risk of hospitalization and fatal infection. However, the rector said that people over 65, those with oncological, cardiological and diabetic diseases and those who are significantly overweight have more difficulty in overcoming the disease. The faster spread of the virus is expected to lead to a surge in the number of cases, with unvaccinated people at even greater risk than before. Semmelweis University staff administered the 500,000th vaccination against the coronavirus on January 7, 2022.

“Providing the population with vaccines has been a priority for Semmelweis University from the beginning, as it is the only way to combat the COVID-19 epidemic in the medium term. That is why my staff have always been ready to work hard at the vaccination points,” emphasized Rector Dr. Béla Merkely on the occasion of the university’s administering the 500,000th vaccination against the coronavirus on January 7, 2022.

The rector recalled that the first two waves of the epidemic were caused by the Wuhan variant, the third by the British variant and the fourth by the delta variant. “We have managed to keep the fourth wave under control, but we can now say that the fifth wave has begun with the emergence and spread of the highly infectious omicron variant. Although this variant causes relatively less severe disease, its high infectivity means that we should expect a significant increase in the number of cases in Hungary, with the number of new cases rising to tens of thousands per day, and therefore the overall number of severe cases will also rise. In this situation it is of paramount importance to increase the vaccination coverage of the population,” said the rector.

“I urge everyone to get a booster shot, because it’s the only way to have a chance to stay healthy and fit for work,” the rector stressed. Dr. Béla Merkely pointed out that international experience shows that the vaccines provide less protection against the infection itself in the case of omicron compared to the previous variants, but if vaccinated people get infected, COVID-19 typically appears only as a mild seasonal upper respiratory tract disease, rather than as a serious disease affecting the body as a whole.

“We will therefore all meet many asympromatic carriers in the weeks to come. The vaccine significantly reduces the severity of the symptoms and its protective effect will provide a stable and high level of protection against severe disease in a significant proportion of the population,” he said. However, people aged 65 and over, oncological patients, people with high blood pressure, cardiological problems or diabetes, and those who are significantly overweight, will find it harder to fight the virus despite receiving the vaccine. “In their case, vaccination is perhaps even more important than before,” stressed the rector.

The most important benefit of a complete course of three doses is that it minimizes the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death,

the rector made clear.

Dr. Béla Merkely recalled that on 26 December 2020 the university was among the first in the country to start the vaccination program, and after that it has always responded promptly to the expansion of the eligibility of the vaccine. Since 4 February 2021, the vaccination of those referred by family doctors has also been carried out, and on 27 March 2021 Semmelweis University became the first in Hungary to vaccinate pregnant women and nursing mothers. On 14 June 2021, Semmelweis University was one of the first institutions to vaccinate 12-15 year olds, and on 15 December it started vaccinating 5-11 year olds. During the vaccination campaigns organized in November and December last year, the university vaccination centers were open to the public with increased capacity. The vaccination rate among university health workers is 100% and the rate for booster shots is close to this as well.

Dr. Béla Merkely emphasized that Semmelweis University has been committed to fighting the virus from the very beginning on all fronts, in prevention, counseling and treatment of patients. He considers clear, professional communication, which the university has followed from the beginning, a key factor in increasing vaccination.

Infodemics, fake news and confusing information about the virus, hurts the fight against the epidemic, it strengthens anti-vaccine forces and reduces the willingness to vaccinate, with the consequence of increasing serious illness and death. It is therefore of paramount importance that the public is informed by credible sources.

The rector said he hopes that 2022 will in general be easier than the previous year and expects the omicron variant to bring the final decline of the epidemic, but this will also require more people to vaccinated.

Translation: Tamás Deme