A state commission made up of health care experts advised the Norwegian government on Monday to make its suspension of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines permanent. The commission, however, proposed that the government could still make both Corona vaccines available to Norwegians who want to take them on a voluntary basis.
Use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Norway was suspended earlier this year after several people who’d taken it later developed blood clots, internal bleeding and even fatal brain hemorrhages. For reasons yet unclear, Norwegians emerged as having among the highest per capita rates of serious side-effects to the vaccine. State health authorities warned of several symptoms of serious illness, also potentially from the J&J vaccine that Johnson & Johnson itself removed from the market last month.
Both the AstraZeneca and J&J (also called Janssen in Norway) vaccines remain approved for use in the EU, the US and elsewhere, and millions of people around the world have taken them with no problems afterwards. State public health institute FHI later recommended they nonetheless be removed from the state’s vaccination program in Norway, but after some professional disagreement, the government sought the proverbial second opinion from an independent commission.
Its leader, Dr Lars Vorland, delivered the commission’s conclusion to Health Minister Bent Høie on Monday and it mostly supported FHI’s position. The commission advised against resumed use of both vaccines, stating that they should no longer be part of Norway’s state vaccination program. Vorland later told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “we don’t want people to get more seriously ill from the vaccine than from Covid-19.”
Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, leader of FHI, had reason to feel vindicated and also presented FHI’s latest official recommendation that the J&J not be taken into use either as an “active vaccine” in the Norwegian vaccination program. She stressed, however, that the decision also has a lot to do with “the (vaccine) situation in Norway,” which is much more positive than even just a month or two ago. Norway is due to receive new and large shipments of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the interval between the first and second shots has been widened. That’s making it possible for many more Norwegians to be vaccinated with at least their first shot.
Stoltenberg and her colleagues at FHI now estimate that removing both the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines from the program will only delay the state’s vaccination program by around two weeks. She stated at a press conference on Monday that most all Norwegians aged 18 and up are now on track to have received their first shots by the second half of August.
“Our needs will be covered,” Stoltenberg said, suggesting that Norway’s supplies of suspended vaccines could also be stored and saved. She noted how the J&J vaccine can not only be easily retained but also has the added benefit that one shot is sufficient for protection from the Corona virus.
Now it’s up to Høie and his fellow government ministers to formally decide on the fate of both vaccines. It’s unlikely they’ll act against the advice of their own commission and other health care authorities. “We’ll make an evaluation,” Høie said on Monday, also regarding whether any of the suspended vaccines can be made available to anyone wanting it in order to become vaccinated earlier than currently scheduled. He added that unused supplies of the vaccines will be returned to EU, which has shared its allotments with Norway. Høie promised a decision on vaccine use would be made “quite soon.”