‘Light at the end of the Corona tunnel’

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That’s how Norwegian Health Minister Bent Høie expressed reason for optimism on Friday, when announcing that the state will likely be able to offer free Corona virus vaccinations to more than a million Norwegians during the first three months of the New Year.

Health officials will be able to start vaccinating Norwegians in January, and as many as 1.25 million within the first quarter of 2021 if all goes as planned. PHOTO: Norwegian Institute of Public Health

Høie confirmed that Norway is due to receive up to 2.5 million doses of the new vaccine early next year. That in turn means that 1.25 million people will be able to receive two doses each, covering more than 70 percent of everyone in the groups most at risk if infected with Covid-19. That also includes health care personnel who work directly with patients.

Vaccinations will continue throughout the year in Norway, which has a total population of less than 6 million. It will be a breakthrough in the battle against the Corona virus in Norway if so many people can be vaccinated at early stages.

Even though vaccine producer Pfizer may only be able to deliver half of the vaccine supplies expected before New Year (100 million doses), Høie said Norwegian officials “expect good access ” to the vaccine, thanks to European and Nordic cooperation, through the first half of 2021. He hopes as many Norwegians as possible will agree to be vaccinated, but stressed it will be voluntary.

“We should be able to have more normal everyday life again by summer,” Høie said, assuming the vaccines becoming available will be approved by European authorities and arrive as planned.

EU helping Norway acquire vaccines
The health minister stressed at another government press conference on Friday that “without the EU, Norway would not have received such quick access to vaccines.” Norway is “too small” to have been made a high priority by the drug companies, Høie said, “but thanks to the good and close European and Nordic cooperation,” Norway and other countries covered by key trade agreements with the EU are getting the vaccine in line with EU members such as France, Germany and Spain. Sweden, also a member of the EU, has played a key role in coordinating distribution of the vaccine to Norway.

The state public health institute FHI concluded last month that the elderly and sick should be vaccinated first. The goal is to prevent serious illness from Covid-19, and death. The government has accepted FHI’s conclusion when setting priorities for who will be offered vaccinations first.

“There won’t be enough for everyone all at one,” Høie cautioned. “The most important thing is to lower the risk for death and getting really sick.”

The vaccine will thus be offered first to those most at risk and then health care personnel. There currently are an estimated 1.3 million Norwegians who are over age 65 or suffer from chronic or serious illness. Residents of nursing homes, which have had a rising casualty rate in recent week, will be at the top of the list.

“We’ll start with the nursing homes and then go down through the age groups for those living at home,” said Norway’s infection director, Geir Bukholm. “When we get down to those age 65, we’ll follow with younger people and those with pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund