Holiday took priority over vaccinations

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Health officials in some affluent areas of Oslo were shocked when they called local residents to schedule free Corona vaccinations this week, only to be turned down. Many of those they called wanted to wait until later, since a vaccination interfered with their plans for Easter breaks at their holiday homes.

The vaccination center here in Bærum, just west of Oslo, decided to close on Thursday and Friday because so many local residents opted to observe the Easter holidays instead. PHOTO: NewsInEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“I was very surprised and couldn’t believe my own ears,” Cathinka Devor Lunde, who works at a vaccination center in Oslo’s Nordre Aker district, declared in a video she put out on social media during the weekend. “But when it happened several times, also when my colleagues called around, I was so disappointed! I thought it was very, very strange, especially given how many people are suffering under the conditions we have now.”

She was referring to all the strict anti-infection measures now in force over most of the county. They won’t be fully eased until most Norwegians are vaccinated and infection stops spreading, so when an Easter holiday break away from home took priority over a vaccination, it sparked reaction.

Benedikte Varvik, assistant leader of the vaccination center, said that around half of all those offered vaccinations in Nordre Aker this week initially declined because they were heading off on Easter holidays. The area has around 51,000 residents and includes the neighbourhoods of Grefsen, Kjelsås, Sogn and, ironically, the area bordering on the grounds of Norway’s biggest hospital, Ullevål, which has played a key role in battling the Corona virus.

The number of people declining vaccination offers was “a lot more than we had hoped,” Varvik told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Saturday. “It makes our work harder, since then we need to contact more people who could take over their appointments. We wish folks had postponed their holidays instead.”

Similar problems arose in the affluent suburb of Bærum, just west of Oslo. Officials there ended up cancelling plans to keep vaccinating through Norway’s official public holidays on Thursday and Friday because so many local residents said they’d be out of town for Easter holidays in the mountains or elsewhere. Norway’s borders remain closed but some Norwegians have also headed abroad for holidays even though they’ll face 10 days of hotel quarantine upon return at their own expense.

“Many people said they wanted to keep the Easter holidays holy, or that it wasn’t convenient to disrupt holidays at their hytter (holiday homes),” Tonje Vågerøy, vaccine coordinator in Bærum, told local newspaper Budstikka. Local officials thus opted to beef up staffing at their large vaccination center at Rud in Bærum during the days just before and right after Norway’s long Easter holiday weekend that extends from Thursday through Monday of next week.

“Then everyone can take some well-deserved holiday, also those working at the vaccination center,” Vågerøy said.

‘Drop your hytte trip’
Dr Preben Aavitsland of the public health institute FHI, which is responsible for Norway’s vaccination program, stressed how important it was for as many Norwegians as possible to get vaccinated. “We’re sending out 100,000 vaccine doses next week, enough for 2 percent of the country’s population,” Aavitsland told NRK. That means most vaccination centers must keep operating through the holidays.

“Those working there are have dropped their Easter holidays, and do so in order to vaccinate folks,” a clearly indignant Aavitsland told NRK. “Then I think people should in fact say ‘yes, please’ when they’re called up and get an offer.”

Everyone declining the offer will likely have to wait even longer, and thus remain under restrictions. “If you say ‘no’ and think you can just arrange a new appointment after Easter, it’s not at all certain that will be possible,” Aavitsland said. “My message is clear: Take the appointment you’re offered, show up and drop your hytte trip.” Both the head of FHI, Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, and Oslo’s political leader of health care issues, Robert Steen, sent out similar messages, too.

At least some were happy to step in and take over vaccination appointments turned down by others. “People have been dying, losing their jobs, students can’t be students, the elderly can’t get together with the young, and then this happens!” exclaimed 62-year-old Øyvind Larsen of Årvoll in the Nordre Aker district of Oslo. He gladly took over a slot turned down by someone else.

“Is it possible to be so thick-headed, so egotistical?” he wondered aloud on NRK Saturday afternoon. He ended up with an appointment on Wednesday and was happy to get it.

NRK could later report that others seemed to have had a change of heart. As news spread of those who’d turned down appointments, most others accepted. “The majority of people are happy and positive when we call, and glad to finally get vaccinated,” Lunde told NRK. She added that the decisions of those declining vaccinations because they’re skeptical towards vaccinatins, and don’t want them, are respected.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund