Health Minister Bent Høie finally had some good news to report heading into the weekend: Norway is due to get more than 2 million extra vaccine doses beginning in April.
Høie could announce that the EU, through which Norway is allocated vaccine, and Pfizer/Biontech have agreed on the acquisition of 200 million more doses with an option for 100 million more. Of that, reports Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), Norway will be allotted 2.24 million doses with an option for 1.2 million more.
Norway has already secured 3.7 million doses of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine.
“The best is that we will be able to get 840,000 of these extra doses in April, May and June,” Høie said. Pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca has also signalled that it can increase its deliveries by up to 50 percent in the same three-month period.
“According to our prognoses, we can now get more than 1.6 million doses of this (the AstraZeneca vaccine) during the second quarter,” Høie said, “much more than what we’d expected as late as yesterday.”
Vaccination program hotly debated
More than 220,000 Norwegians had been vaccinated by Friday, just over 66,000 of whom have received both the first and second shots. Nursing home residents, elderly living at home and health care personnel have had first priority, to be followed by those with chronic health problems and then by age groups from older to younger.
Debate has swirled in recent weeks, however, over the vaccination program that’s covering the entire country at the same pace. That means vaccine doses have been doled out proportionately to all municipalities nationwide based on their population, not their infection situation.
Oslo’s city government leader, Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, has complained for weeks that he thinks areas with the most infection (not least his own city) should have the highest priority. He wants more vaccine allocated to Oslo, which has had a high infection rate, than to outlying regions with little if any infection.
Demands for new vaccination strategy
Høie and Prime Minister Erna Solberg, both from the Conservative Party, have repeatedly pointed out that they’re following the advice of not only medical professionals but also the state public health institute’s ethics committee. Moreover, Solberg notes, the infection situation can change very quickly also in small towns like Ulvik in Hardanger, where nearly half the population has been in quarantine following an outbreak of the British strain of the virus.
Earlier this week, Oslo and 64 other communities in the surrounding area nonetheless demanded a new vaccine strategy. They all want larger allocations of vaccine doses, better compensation packages and stricter border control. Their biggest demand in a letter to the Norwegian Parliament is for an “adjustment” so that areas with higher infection get higher priority and more vaccine.
Around 2.2 million people live in and around Oslo. “There’s no doubt that the Oslo region has been hardest hit,” Bærum Mayor Lene Conradi told NRK. “We see that in the numbers of those infected but also the numbers of people who have died.”
Program defended, but not for russ
Norway’s public health institute FHI, which is in charge of the vaccination program, claimed the program is under evaluation at all times. Dr Geir Bukholm of FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet) noted in a press release that the infection situation nationwide would need to be changing much more dramatically to justify going over to a program that would favour some areas over others. If one area gets more vaccine, another will get less: “We may see positive effects on the death toll in a region getting more vaccine doses, but the opposite effect someplace else,” Bukholm wrote.
A proposal, meanwhile, from the national president of the organization representing graduating high school students (russ) to also get higher priority was firmly rejected, and ridiculed. Sara Landaas was subjected to massive criticism on social media after she stated on NRK’s national nightly newscast Thursday that the high school students have had a tough time during the Corona crisis and should be “rewarded” with vaccinations. Then they could socialize, party and make the most of the rowdy russ-season.
Landaas has since been branded as “stupid,” “egotistical” and that she should be ashamed of herself for trying to jump the queue. She defended her request, saying that wasn’t her intention: “I just think we russ could rise a little in the queue, but of course only after all elderly and everyone in a risk group has been vaccinated.” That’s unlikely to happen.