Optimism amidst vaccine offensive

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Medics from the Norwegian military were reporting for vaccination duty on Monday, just as a new study sparked optimism that former Corona patients can be protected from the virus for a long time after being sick. Researchers in Southern Norway were pleasantly surprised over how patients retained antibodies for as long as a year after even mild cases of Covid-19.

Norwegian soldiers have already helped with Corona testing at the borders and are now being called upon to help vaccinate civilians. PHOTO: Forsvaret

The study involved 400 Norwegians living in the country’s southern regions of Telemark and Agder who were infected either during the first or second waves of the virus, in March and December 2020. The study hasn’t been published yet, but Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Monday morning that 94 percent of those tested still had “good” levels of virus antibodies in their blood up to a year after falling ill. More than 50 percent had “high” levels.

“These are very positive results,” Dr Marjut Anneli Sarjomaa, who was responsible for the study of patients at the Telemark Hospital, told NRK. Only 6 percent of those taking part had been sick enough to be hospitalized. The remainder therefore had relatively mild cases of the Corona virus.

“It’s a bit surprising that even a mild case can generate antibodies that last a long time,” Sarjomaa said, adding that those who became seriously ill have even higher levels of antibodies in their blood. Earlier studies in Britain and the US have shown that Corona patients can become immune for six to eight months after falling ill. Now more can be immune, and for longer periods.

“We’ve known that those who’ve been very sick have high levels of antibodies,” added project leader Dr Anne Kristin Møller Fell. “We’ve been in doubt about those who haven’t been so sick.” Both Sarjomaa and Fell are connected to the University of Oslo and cooperate with other researchers both nationally and internationally.

The study’s results give cause for optimism, even though they don’t include patients now being infected by the highly contagious Omicron variant of Covid-19. The study will continue, however, over the next two years.

New vaccine offensive
The study’s first results come just as the Norwegian government is also launching a new vaccine offensive aimed at protecting as many as possible from the virus. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, faced with record-high infection levels because of Omicron, stated during the weekend that he’s further stepping up vaccination programs: Now everyone over age 18 will be offered third booster shots by the end of February, not later in the spring as earlier announced.

In order to speed up vaccination programs run by local governments nationwide, Støre has called on Norwegian defense forces to help out. The first medics were on duty in the southern city of Fredrikstad on Monday, to support the civilian authorities in giving shots.

The defense department has made available 10 mobile vaccination teams with 16 soldiers in each, including doctors, nurses and other health care personnel. Each team can vaccinate 600 people per day, spread over three stations. All are well-trained and will work in what the military calls “tight dialogue” with local officials where they’ll serve.

Pharmacies may also get involved
It’s up to local authorities themselves whether they need or want the soldiers’ assistance, with Fredrikstad among the first to call for help, followed by Oslo, Trondheim, Bergen and Rogaland, which have also experienced high infection rates. Bent Høie, the former health minister who now serves as county governor in Rogaland, said six local communities in Rogaland had already requested help from the military teams.

Norwegian pharmacies have also offered their services if necessary, and may be hired in as well to augment the local municipalities vaccination programs. They claim they can vaccinate up to 100,000 people per week if all pharmacies take part around the country.

The researchers at the University of Oslo stressed that even though having had the virus offers protection, they still strongly recommend vaccinations as well. “Just one vaccination on top of having been sick with Corona can be better than three vaccinations for those who haven’t been sick,” Dr Sarjomaa told NRK, “but we need more knowledge about that.” She and Dr Fell both urged all Norwegians, currently subject to a new and disappointing round of restrictions, to heed the vaccine call.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund