Vaccine program due to keep rolling

Bookmark and Share

Even though Norway has at least temporarily halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, because of concerns over possible side-effects, state authorities claim the country’s vaccination program won’t come to a halt, too. Other vaccines are on their way, and more of them.

State health authorities have tried to reassure Norwegians that the state vaccination program will continue, like here at a vaccination center in Bærum, just outside Oslo. PHOTO: NewsInEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“We’re expecting the arrival of many various vaccines to be able to vaccinate the population, even though problems may come up with one or more of them,” stressed Health Minister Bent Høie at Wednesday’s press conference on the Corona situation. “That means Norway’s vaccination program won’t stop.”

Høie was referring to how use of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been suspended in Norway following suspected ties to blood clots and cerebral hemorrhages in otherwise healthy people who’d taken it. Two health care workers, both under the age of 50, have died in the past week.

It had been widely used among health care workers on the front line of Covid-19 response, but has also made some ill. The vast majority, however, are now considered to be protected and not contagious themselves even after just the first dose. They’ve thus been exempted from Norway’s strict quarantine requirements as part of preparedness efforts for a third wave of Corona patients needing hospitalization.

“We now know that those vaccinated seldom transfer infection on to others,” Høie said. “That applies also to those who’ve taken a first dose.” He has thus, on the advice of state health authorities, allowed exemptions from quarantine  while at work for all health care workers vaccinated at least three weeks ago.

‘Independent evaluation’ looms for AstraZeneca
Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, head of Norway’s public health institute FHI, stressed, meanwhile, that Norwegian health authorities will make their own evaluation of whether the AstraZeneca vaccine will be used again in Norway, regardless of what European and Norway’s own drug authorities decide.

“FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet), which is responsible for the national vaccination program, will make its own independent evaluation of whether we’ll continue to offer this vaccine in the program in Norway,” Stoltenberg said. She seemed more cautious about its use than the head of Norway’s state drug administration (Legemiddelverket), who has stressed that those suffering side-effects represent a tiny portion of all injected with AstraZeneca.

One of the doctors who’s been treating the health care workers who’ve suffered possible AstraZeneca side-effects at the national hospital, meanwhile, was skeptical as well. Dr Pål Andre Holme of Rikshospitalet’s neurology department told state broadcaster NRK earlier this week that he thinks it’s “more likely than unlikely” that there are ties between the cerebral hemorrhages and the AstraZeneca vaccine. Investigations are underway.

Holme later announced findings that link the hemorrhaging to a powerful response by the patients’ immune systems to the vaccine. See the story here.

Health Minister Høie, meanwhile, said that Norway is now due to receive delivery of 120,000 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine than expected during the second quarter. While cautioning that Norwegians “must be prepared for both good and bad vaccine news,” Høie said the extra Pfizer doses represented some good news in a week when infection levels in Norway soared and even stricter Corona containment measures were put in place.

Høie also said that if the planned deliveries of vaccine from Pfizer, Moderna and the new single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrive as planned, Norway will have enough “to offer vaccinations to the country’s entire population (of 5.3 million) during the summer months.”

Norway has been receiving its vaccine allotments in cooperation with the EU and its neighbouring member, Sweden. The EU has recently given the nod to the new Russian vaccine called Sputnik, which has also received good reviews in international medical journals. It’s unclear, however, when more Sputnik vaccine may be available.

Nearly 500,000 Norwegians had been vaccinated as of Thursday morning, just under 10 percent of the population.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund