Norway officially axes AstraZeneca jab and changes vaccine strategy

Norway has officially axed the AstraZeneca jab from its vaccine program due to the rare but serious side effects, the country's PM announced on Wednesday. The government also maintained the suspension of the Johnson & Johnson jab.

Norway officially axes AstraZeneca jab and changes vaccine strategy
A dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

AstraZeneca was officially dropped days after an expert committee set up by the government ruled that it should be withdrawn from Norway’s vaccine strategy.

PM Erna Solberg made the announcement at a government press conference on Wednesday.

Solberg said the decision had been taken in view of the rare but serious side effects associated with the jabs, which both use the same adenovirus technology. 

The Johnson & Johnson jab will remain suspended but the government will offer the single dose vaccine to those who want it voluntarily. 

“The government has considered whether people can take the vaccines voluntarily. The government concluded that only the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be offered voluntarily,” Solberg said. 

The Norwegian Directorate of Health will assess how the vaccine can be offered voluntarily. 

“We will ask the Norwegian Directorate of Health to investigate how this can be done. The Directorate will be asked to look at which criteria should apply in that case, how information about risk should be provided, where the vaccine should be given, and by whom. If the Janssen vaccine is to be offered, it will be free and those who receive it will be covered by the patient injury scheme in case of side effects,” Minister of Health, Bent Høie, said in a statement on the ministry of healths website

The AstraZeneca vaccine had been on pause in Norway since March 11th due to reports of suspected serious side effects such as blood clots. 

Norway will donate its doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to other countries. 

Updated vaccine strategy

Solberg also announced that Norway would be updating its vaccine strategy, with those aged between 18 and 24 moving ahead in the queue. 

They will now be offered a vaccine after everyone over 45 has been vaccinated. 

Those aged between 40 and 44 will be offered vaccines at the same time as those aged between 18 and 25. 

People aged between 25 and 39 will now be the last group to be offered a vaccine. 

Norway will also reprioritise the distribution of vaccines, with areas with consistently high infection pressure receiving up to 60 percent more doses. 

The proposal means that 319 municipalities in Norway will now receive around 35 percent fewer doses than previously planned. 

The PM said that the new strategy will allow Norway to lift restrictions faster.

“The whole of Norway can reopen earlier if we do it this way,” Solberg said. 

From the approximately 135,000 injections of AstraZeneca’s vaccine administered in Norway up until mid-March, eight cases of severe thrombosis were reported, usually in relatively young and healthy people, with four of them being fatal.

Norway suspended the AstraZeneca jab on March 11 while its side effects were studied in more detail.

On April 15, Norwegian health authorities recommended dropping the vaccine from the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker, but the government chose to first set up a committee of experts to examine the risks associated with the jabs.

The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization both recommend continued use of the vaccines, arguing that the benefits far outweigh the associated risks.

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Today in Norway: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday 

Find out what’s going on in Norway on Wednesday with The Local’s short roundup of important news. 

Today in Norway: A roundup of the latest news on Wednesday 
Oslo Operahus. Photo by Arvid Malde on Unsplash

Coronavirus measures extended in Oslo 

Oslo City Council have extended current coronavirus measures until June 18th. 

The decision comes after infections in the Norwegian capital rose by 87 percent last week. 

“Almost 600 were infected. A large amount of those were 16–19-year-old’s who haven’t been vaccinated yet,” Executive Mayor Raymond Johansen told the press on Tuesday. 

Johansen added that another reason for extending measures was that the city council is hoping to lift them for good when they do ease restrictions. 

Click HERE for more on the extension of coronavirus restrictions in Oslo 

The Executive Mayor said the city would also be banning russ, final year high school students who party in the month leading up to their final exams, from “rolling”. 

READ MORE: Could final year high school students in Norway be given earlier Covid-19 vaccines? 

This is where students ride around in special party buses or coaches. 

“If there are many in a russ bus, perhaps in a jovial mood and wanting to dance and shout and have a good time, we see that the risk of infection spreading increases greatly,” Johansen said. 

You can read more on the current measures in Oslo here

Warning systems tested today 

The Norwegian Civil Defence will test its warning systems today at midday. 

The message “Important message- search for information” will be tested in all municipalities where warning system are installed. 

The signal will be sent three times with one-minute pauses between each message. 

There are around 1,250 warning systems installed across Norway that can be used in both war and peacetime. 

“In peacetime, the warning systems can be used in industrial accidents with emissions or toxic or dangerous substances. While in war, the facilities can be used in case of airstrikes,” Sigurd Heier, acting chief of the civil defence, said in a statement.

Press conference on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine 

The government is expected to unveil its voluntary scheme for those who wish to opt-in for the single-use Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, newspaper VG have reported

According to the paper, the plan will be rolled out as early as next week. 

The solution will allow GP’s and private medical clinics to assess those wishing to take the vaccine and print a prescription for it. 

There are currently over 200,000 vaccine doses of the single use vaccine in stock. 

READ ALSO: Norway officially axes AstraZeneca jab and changes vaccine strategy

188 new Covid-19 cases 

On Tuesday, 188 new coronavirus infections were recorded across Norway, a decline of 51 on the seven-day average of 239. 

In the Capital, Oslo, 62 new cases were registered. This is a drop of 26 on the seven-day average. 

The R-number or reproduction rate in Norway is currently 1.0. This means that every ten people that are infected will, on average, only infect another ten people, indicating that the infection level is stable.

Number of reported Covid-19 cases. Source: NIPH