State now urges vaccination for all

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Norway’s new Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen announced Friday that state health officials now recommend that all Norwegians, not just those in high-risk categories, be vaccinated against the swine flu virus. They’re concerned that only 20 percent of the population has appeared willing to accept the vaccine.

Strøm-Erichsen said the vaccine, which arrived in Norway last week, will first be made available to those with chronic illnesses who are considered to be most at risk to contracting swine flu. The vaccine will be available for the rest of the population from mid-November, she said.

That has infuriated officials in Oslo, who demand vaccine supplies in greater quantities and now, not two weeks from now. They called it a “scandal” that health care workers in Oslo must set priorities over who can be vaccinated and who can’t, not least since thousands of Oslo residents have fallen ill in recent weeks.

Strøm-Erichsen said local clinics and doctors’ offices all over Norway will boost their capacity to offer vaccinations. Patients’ share of the cost ranges from NOK 50 to NOK 100 (about USD 10-20).

On Friday came news that a two-year-old boy in Vest-Agder, southern Norway, had died after being diagnosed with swine flu. Doctors said he had been in the high-risk group, born with a congenital disease. His death brought the total number of fatalities connected to swine flu in Norway to 10.

Many remain undecided as to whether they’ll be vaccinated, but the state’s recommendation may encourage them to do so. A survey earlier this week indicated that only 21 percent planned to be vaccinated while 64 percent would decline and 15 percent were undecided.

The numbers surprised Dr Bjørn Iversen of the state health institute (Folkehelseinstituttet) . The vaccine acceptance rate was “low,” he said, “and I hope a lot more accept the offer of the vaccination when they receive it, not least to protect others.”

Swine flu reportedly is spreading rapidly in Nittedal, just north of Oslo, where entire classrooms are empty because of students home ill with flu-like symptoms. Not all of them, however, have been confirmed to carry the swine flu virus.