BarcelonaThere is growing concern about the rapid increase in hospitalisations among young people, especially among the unvaccinated. Right now, seven in ten people admitted to hospital due to covid are not vaccinated: they account for 77.6% of the 219 patients in intensive care units (ICU) and 71% of the 1,185 patients in conventional wards. "But we cannot say that these are people who have not wanted to be vaccinated," said the Secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas, who added that, although some may have refused the vaccine, some had not yet been offered an appointment. For example, because it is relatively recently that the vaccination has been opened to age groups under 40.
Vaccination is a protective shield against the gravest consequences of covid, which is very evident in ICU figures. Only 7.8% of critically ill patients have received the two doses of the vaccine and, therefore, have the full guideline, according to the Health Department. In contrast, 14.6% had received the first dose and, therefore, were still at risk of developing severe covid. The presence of vaccinated people is also much lower in the emergency rooms and conventional wards. In this case, 13% of patients have received at least one dose and 16% have received two doses. This is because immunity is not automatic - it takes a few weeks after the jab to see the effects - and not everyone who is vaccinated is protected from the disease (it is estimated that 10% of those vaccinated do not develop immunity).
Nearly half (45%) of patients coming into hospital are between 30 and 50 years old, and the state of the vaccination campaign is also key to understanding why hospitals are now seeing more young patients. Older age groups have been immunised for months. By contrast, vaccines only began to be offered to under-40s a months ago. With the outbreak of infections in recent weeks, especially among the unvaccinated, there has been a rapid increase in the number of young people admitted, especially to conventional wards, but also to ICU.
The director of the Catalan Health Service (CatSalut), Gemma Craywinckel, warned on Wednesday that the curve of cases for this group is almost the same as for the over-50s, the part of the population more susceptible to severe illness and, at the same time, the most protected: "Vaccination has made the age groups of unvaccinated people begin to be on an equal footing with older people".
Health's priority now is to finish vaccinating the population aged 60 to 69 years, the age group to which most ICU patients belong. To achieve this, administration of the second doses of AstraZeneca have been brought forward four weeks. Simultaneously, it also wants to finish immunising all the over-30s, the group that occupies the most conventional beds.
221.000 visits to Health Centres in a week
Craywinckel has stated that if the rate of hospital admissions remains as it is now - with a hundred daily admissions to the conventional wards and a dozen to ICUs - within a week there could be as many as 300 ICU patients. "We have not reached the figures of the first wave, but it does make us suffer. We have not managed to decongest primary care as we wanted and we are already congesting the second level of care, which can put the entire sector in tension," she admitted.
For this reason, some health centres are considering cancelling activity for next week and are already reopening covid-19 wards, which were only closed a couple of weeks ago. Primary care centers have had to delay the recovery of presentiality because they have tripled the activity dedicated to coronavirus with more than 221,000 visits in the last seven days.
"Incidence rates tell us that the outbreak has not yet slowed down. They are very high figures, especially in young people, and with an impact on care growing both in primary care and in hospitals," said Cabezas. The secretary has described the fifth wave as the "perfect storm" and said that the triggers are the increase in social life, such as end-of-year trips, the removal of masks, major events, and the expansion of the Delta variant, which already accounts for 84% of cases sequenced in Catalonia. "In none of the previous waves had we seen such an explosive increase as the current one," she warned.
Record calls to 061: up to 60,000 every day
The 061 Health Department hotline has set a new record: over 60,000 calls daily, most related to coronavirus, such as doubts with vaccination, with the vaccination certificate or symptoms compatible with the virus. This figure is ten times the number of calls that were received before the pandemic and doubles that of the most critical moments, March 2020, when about 25,000 calls were handled daily.
The operating system was improved in the last few months: it can now handle up to 600 calls at a time. Nevertheless, Craywinckel claims that with the current volume "the hotline is saturated". The director of CatSalut has asked for a more rational use of this service and for it only to be used for urgent cases or those that require a clinical assessment.