Pfizer to Decide on Iceland Mass Vaccination Study This Week

COVID-19 vaccine producer Pfizer will decide this week whether to provide vaccines for the entire population of Iceland in order to conduct a study on herd immunity, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist told national broadcaster RÚV. In a series of informal meetings with Pfizer representatives, Icelandic authorities have proposed the nation as an ideal location for the manufacturer to conduct a study on herd immunity. The nation would benefit as well, ensuring itself access to enough of the Pfizer vaccine for the entire population and speeding up the journey toward achieving herd immunity to COVID-19.

Pfizer Considering Proposition

Iceland has several advantages as a research location for herd immunity by vaccination. Its small population (368,000) and good infrastructure would allow the nation to complete vaccination quickly. Icelandic authorities have also been fastidious at gathering data throughout the pandemic, including, for example, by sequencing all viral samples collected.

Icelandic media has been reporting on the informal talks between health authorities and Pfizer representatives for several weeks, and according to the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, the proposed study is still on the table. In a conversation with RÚV reporters today, Þórólfur stated he expects to receive a yes or no answer from the vaccine manufacturer this week. “The ball is still in their court,” Þórólfur stated. “They have not formally responded. I know they are checking to see whether they have enough vaccines for it. Because of course there is a great demand for vaccines and they have obligations all over the world.”

Could Speed Up Herd Immunity in Iceland

Pfizer has already reached a similar deal with Israeli authorities to vaccinate all citizens over 16 by the end of March in exchange for statistical data. CEO of Iceland’s deCODE genetics Kári Stefánsson stated that Danish authorities were also attempting to organise a similar study in collaboration with Pfizer. While he initially implied Danish efforts were negatively impacting Iceland’s chances with Pfizer, he later rescinded his comments.

According to current vaccination distribution schedules, Iceland expects to receive doses for 38,000 individuals by the end of March and achieve herd immunity by the second half of this year. Were the Pfizer study to happen, this timeline would be sped up significantly. Vaccination will be optional and free of charge in Iceland.

Icelandic Horse Export Suspended Following Fatal Accident

Icelandic horse

Update Jan 14: Two export companies have reported that export of Icelandic horses to Liège, Belgium will resume on January 20. Icelandair Cargo has stated that while they are still ironing out the details with Liege authorities, that is indeed the case.

Export of Icelandic horses to Liège, Belgium has been suspended indefinitely following an accident caused by human error at Liege airport last month. A container with horses fell off a platform, causing severe injury to two horses and minor injuries to a third. The two badly injured horses had to be put down. Bændablaðið reported first.

Boom in Export of Icelandic Horses

The decision to halt export indefinitely will have a huge impact on Icelandic horse farmers and Icelandic horse enthusiasts in mainland Europe. By far the largest market for Icelandic horses abroad is in Germany, and all horses that are exported to that country go through Liège. Export of Icelandic horses grew by 50% in 2020 as compared to the previous year.

Around 2,000 Icelandic horses were exported to new homes abroad last year, and after Germany, their most common destinations were Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Icelandic horses fetch a fine price abroad: one prized stallion set a new record last year when he was sold to a buyer in Denmark, reportedly for tens of millions of krónur, or hundreds of thousands of US dollars.

Human Error Caused Horse Injuries

Mikael Tal Grétarsson, Export Manager at Icelandair Cargo, stated that the incident was not due to an equipment malfunction but rather to human error. “We have been transporting horses in specially-equipped containers since 1995 with similar equipment and it has been very successful,” Mikael told Bændablaðið. “We have certain procedures that we follow and our subcontractors should also follow. Then it happens that an employee in Belgium doesn’t follow work procedure, he doesn’t fasten the container sufficiently, so it falls about 50 centimetres from the platform and therefore this accident occurs. This is a human error and we had to put down two horses in consultation with their owners and a veterinarian at the site. One additional horse had minor injuries but did not need to be put down.”

According to Mikael, Belgian authorities have now suspended horse imports from Iceland and Icelandair Cargo will be required to adapt their procedure to the country’s recently-updated import regulations. “We need to better understand how we can fulfil them and have, among other things, met with [the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority] here at home to review work procedures. This is a matter of great interest to horse farmers and we take accidents like this very seriously, as we always put safety and welfare in first place.”

Read more about the Icelandic horse and its international appeal.

Divers Assess Risk of Oil Leak From Sunken Ship

A large feed boat belonging to fish farming company Laxar sunk in Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland last weekend. Vísir reports that divers were sent out to the ship yesterday to assess the risk of oil leakage from the vessel, which contains around 10,000 litres of diesel oil in addition to 300 tonnes of feed for farmed salmon. The ship was brought down by extreme weather last weekend and the company plans to eventually retrieve the vessel.

The 25-metre ship, named Munin, sunk close to land, but is now located some 35 metres below the ocean’s surface. The exact cause of the incident has not been determined, but when rescue crews reached the vessel, it was filled with water and had begun to sink.

In addition to assessing the risk of oil leakage from the ship, the divers’ job was to close up all holes where the ship’s diesel oil could possibly leak out. So far, no indications of an oil leak have been observed. Jens Garðar Helgason, CEO of Laxar, says there is little risk of oil leakage occurring but the company is nevertheless doing everything possible to minimise it further. Jens says the company will consult responders and insurance representatives on how to retrieve the ship.

First Doses of Moderna Vaccine Arrive in Iceland

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Iceland

Iceland received its first 1,200 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shortly before 8.00am this morning, RÚV reports. The vaccines arrived via an Icelandair cargo flight from Belgium. The doses will be used to complete vaccination of frontline workers in the Reykjavík capital area.

The doses have now been transported to drug distributor Distica’s headquarters in Garðabær, where specialists will inspect so-called thermograms in the packaging to ensure the material has not been damaged in transport. “We read a thermogram to check the measurements of thermometers that accompany the material all the way,” explains Distica CEO Júlía Rós Atladóttir. Distica will send their thermogram readings to Moderna, who must give the final go-ahead before vaccination can begin.

Doses Go to Frontline Workers

Capital area health clinics are scheduled to begin administering the vaccine tomorrow to paramedics and police officers who work in frontline positions, as well as employees of official quarantine hotels. The Moderna vaccines must be stored at -15-25°C throughout transport, significantly warmer than the -80°C required to store Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines. Two and a half hours before they are administered, the Moderna vaccines are transferred to a temperature of 2-8°C (the temperature of a standard refrigerator), and they are stored at room temperature for 15 minutes before they are finally administered.

Read More: What’s the status of COVID-19 vaccination in Iceland?

Iceland received its first 10,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines on December 28 last year, from manufacturer Pfizer, and vaccination began on December 29. Both Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines must be administered in two doses, though the time between doses varies. The Pfizer vaccines are administered with a 19-23 day gap, while Moderna’s two doses are administered 28 days apart.

Those Over 70 Next in Line

Icelandic authorities expect to receive 38,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of March, which will be used to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers and residents over 70 years of age. Those under 70 can expect to wait at least until April for their shots. Icelandic authorities have already ensured access to enough doses of COVID-19 vaccine to inoculate the entire nation, though when those doses will arrive in Iceland remains unclear. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist has stated that the nation is unlikely to achieve herd immunity through vaccination before the second half of this year.