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Thursday, May 23, 2024

‘Too few’ getting re-vaccinated

He’s back: Dr Espen Rostrup Nakstad, Norway’s assistant director of health, was a familiar face during the Corona crisis, as he explained effects of the virus and helped guide the country through the pandemic. Now he’s concerned that new Corona-related infection is rising again, and that not enough Norwegians have taken booster shots of the new Covid vaccines.

Dr Espen Rostrup Nakstad was often seen at press conferences and on national TV in Norway during the Corona crisis. He returned to the media this week, urging more Norwegians to get booster shots. PHOTO: Helsedepartementet

“We’re lagging with our vaccination rate, both against Covid-19 and not least influensa,” Rakstad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday. Not only is Covid spreading and infection levels rising, he noted, so are hospitalizations.

“There are many people in the high-risk groups and those aged 65 and over who haven’t been vaccinated yet,” Rakstad said. Norway’s public health institute FHI has estimated that can amount to as many as 1.6 million Norwegians.

Rakstad urged them all to get vaccinated, and to especially take advantage of the updated Covid vaccinations still being offered for free by local health officials in municipalities all over Norway. He also stressed that it’s more important to get vaccinated than to get tested for the virus upon falling ill.

FHI is warning hospitals, meanwhile, to brace for more patients with serious respiratory ailments through the winter. There’s been a big jump in hospitalizations since mid-October and most of the cold- and flu season lies ahead.

A new study, meanwhile, shows that Norway’s strict anti-Corona regime may have saved just over 2,000 lives, but at a high cost. Researchers have examined results of the very different approaches taken by health authorities in Norway and Sweden, when Norway all but shut down while Sweden remained much more open.

Norway ended up with among the strictest anti-Corona measures in Europe, lasting from March 2020 and into 2022, while Sweden had the most liberal, according to researcher Per-Henrik Zahl of Norway’s FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet) and his Norwegian and Swedish colleagues. Norway closed all its schools, for example, while Sweden kept its schools open.

Now Zahl and his co-authors have written a new scientific article, evaluated and published in the Journal of Infection and Public Health, that compares mortality rates tied to Covid-19 in the two countries from 2020-2022. “We have calculated how many human lives were spared in Norway compared to Sweden: 2,025, when we imposed extremely strict anti-infection measures until the population was vaccinated,” Zahl told Oslo-based newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday. The researchers also determined that Sweden could have saved 3,915 lives if it had adopted another strategy.

The question is whether Norway’s strict strategy was worth the costs, not only in terms of the huge financial investment in its anti-infection measures but also the  consequences of, for example, closing schools. The study shows that home-schooling cut the quality of instruction while no such loss of learning is registered in Sweden. Norway has also experienced a major increase in psychiatric ailments among children and youth after the shutdown. Stockholm recorded an increase in eating disorders among youth, but not the increase in mental health problems.

Norway’s state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) has also calculated that the country’s overall shutdown of most all aspects of public life cost Norway NOK 270 billion, equal to about NOK 133 million for each life saved. No such figure is available regarding Sweden’s cost of anti-infection measures. When Norway relaxed its Covid restrictions, the death rate also rose dramatically. The researchers themselves question whether Norway’s shutdown can be defended when it didn’t prevent more than 2,025 Covid-related deaths “and only delayed the pandemic by a little more than a year.”

Norwegian health officials are now urging all those with chronic illnesses and aged 65 and over to get booster shots of the updated Covid vaccine. Norway otherwise has few if any Covid restrictions now, as infection and hospitalizations rise. Concerns are also rising about the effects of so-called “Long Covid” symptoms that have also led to higher rates of sick leave.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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