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Norway delays final decision on withdrawal of AstraZeneca vaccine

Norway's health authority has recommended AstraZeneca be withdrawn from its Covid-19 vaccination program, but the country's government has delayed a final decision until May.  

Norway delays final decision on withdrawal of AstraZeneca vaccine
Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

The government has said it believes more information is needed before making a final decision on the AstraZeneca vaccine, after the Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommended it be withdrawn from the national vaccination programme.

A final decision will be given on May 10th, Health Minister Bent Høie said at a press briefing on Thursday afternoon.

“The government believes we do not yet have a good enough basis for drawing final conclusions,” Høie said.     

“We must assess the consequences for the health of the entire population if we have to live with restrictions for longer than other countries in Europe”, he added.  

Use of AstraZeneca has been on hold in Norway since March 11th due to suspected serious side effects including blood clots and low platelet counts.  

The government said it was setting up an expert committee to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment on the vaccine. The committee will submit its report ahead of the decision in May .

The risk assessment will look at both AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has delayed its European rollout due to reported blood clots.

“We set up this committee because we want to know more about the consequences for the population and society before we make a decision,” Høie said.

Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are based on the same vaccine technology. As such, a decision by to withdraw AstraZeneca in May could also be significant for Johnson & Johnson’s single use Janssen vaccine.

“If we now say no to AstraZeneca, it could have consequences for the opportunity to use Johnson & Johnson,” Høie said.

Norway has ordered over a million doses of the Janssen vaccine.

The vaccination program in Norway could face delays of up to seven weeks if both serums are dropped according to head of the NIPH, Camilla Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg also said the recommendation to recommend withdrawing the vaccine was one of the hardest decisions the authority has made during the pandemic.

So far, five patients under the age of 50 have been admitted to Oslo University Hospital (OUS) with severe blood clots after taking the AstraZeneca vaccine. Three of them have died.

Experts at the hospital have said the blood clots were triggered by a strong immune response linked to the Anglo-Swedish manufacturers serum.

The European Medicines Agency last week came to the conclusion that the unusual blood clots suffered by numerous people around Europe should be considered as rare side effects of the vaccine.

The EMA added that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.  

On Wednesday Denmark became the first country in the world to scrap the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine

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COVID-19

Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death. 

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