Iceland Has Reached Herd Immunity, Says Chief Epidemiologist

Þórólfur Guðnason

Iceland has vaccinated enough of its population against COVID-19 to avoid a local epidemic, though group outbreaks could still occur among those who have not received the jab, says Þórólfur Guðnason, the country’s Chief Epidemiologist. Iceland has thus achieved herd immunity, Þórólfur told RÚV, despite having not yet reached authorities’ stated goal of fully vaccinating 75% of the population. Over 52% of Icelandic residents ages 16 and over are fully vaccinated while another 28.8% have received one dose.

With just 15 active cases in the country, Iceland has not reported any new domestic cases of COVID-19 in five days. Þórólfur states that there is reason to further relax social restrictions, which currently limit gatherings to 300 people or less and require mask use for seated events and activities that require contact, such as hairdressing.

In Focus: How Iceland Beat the First Wave of COVID-19

Þórólfur says the Icelandic nation has achieved herd immunity to COVID-19, though group outbreaks may still occur. He points out that herd immunity cannot be defined as a specific number, rather the collective immunity within the community that prevents a large epidemic. While 80-100% of older demographics are now fully vaccinated, Þórólfur points out that the rates remain lower among young people and they are therefore still at risk of infection and group outbreaks.

While participation in COVID-19 vaccination has been high in Iceland, the Chief Epidemiologist says the nation must continue to administer the jab and vaccinate as many people as possible. By the end of this week, all Icelanders 16 years of age and older will have been invited to receive their first dose and the vast majority should be fully vaccinated by mid-July. Authorities are also now administering vaccines to children aged 12-15 who have underlying illnesses. A decision has not been made on whether all children in this demographic will be offered vaccination against COVID-19.

Changes to Bus Regulations Also Limit Foreign Coach Operators

Public bus in Reykjavík

Passengers will be able to enter buses at all doors and will not be required to show the bus driver a ticket or pass according to regulations that were approved by Iceland’s parliament before it adjourned earlier this month. Mbl.is reports that it will soon be possible to fine passengers who did not pay bus fare. The new regulations also better define the role of foreign tour bus drivers that work in Iceland on a temporary basis.

Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson, CEO of public transportation company Strætó, states that the regulations will be convenient for the rapid bus transit line (Borgarlína) that is in the works for Reykjavík. The vehicles operating on the line will have several doors with ticket scanners where passengers will be able to enter and pay, and paying on the platform may also be an option. While drivers will no longer be checking that passengers have paid their fares, it will be possible to fine those who don’t up to ISK 30,000 ($244/€205). An increasing number of passengers pay their fare through a pre-purchased pass or via the Strætó app.

In Focus: Borgarlína Transit Project Splits Opinions

The regulations also limit the length of time coach drivers from the European Economic Area can work in Iceland to 10 days at one time. This regulation applies to drivers whose permit was issued abroad. The regulations are yet to be implemented.

COVID-Recovered Offered Vaccination in Iceland

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

Icelandic authorities will now offer vaccination to residents who have recovered from COVID-19 infection, Vísir reports. While the country’s vaccination program was originally only open to those who had not been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, new research shows vaccines offer more protection than antibodies formed in response to COVID infection. Iceland will have administered one or both doses of vaccine to all residents 16 years of age and over by the end of this week.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason recommends vaccination to those who have recovered from COVID-19. “Now we’re getting findings from studies that show that it’s a good idea to vaccinate those who have contracted COVID as their immune response is narrower and less significant than after two inoculations. We will invite them for vaccination on that basis.”

AstraZeneca Second Doses Delayed

Over 64% of Iceland’s population has received at least one dose of vaccine against COVID-19 while over 41% are fully vaccinated. All adults in the country that have not yet been vaccinated have received an invitation to the jab this week. Some 20,000 residents of the Reykjavík capital area who received one dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will have to wait until next week at least to receive the other one due to a delay in shipments from the manufacturer.

Around 10,000 doses of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine will be administered at Laugardalshöll mass vaccination centre in Reykjavík tomorrow and the same number of Pfizer doses will be given on Wednesday. After 2.00pm tomorrow, those who have received an invitation for the Janssen vaccine but did not attend their appointment can drop by the centre for a vaccine. The same applies to those who received, but did not attend, an appointment for Pfizer: they can drop in after 3.00pm on Wednesday to get the shot, while supplies last.

Reykjanes Eruption: Road Sacrificed, Town Protected

Geldingadalir reykjanes eruption volcano

Icelandic authorities will not attempt to divert lava from the ongoing eruption in Geldingadalir away from the adjacent Suðurstrandarvegur road. The eruption has been ongoing for more than three months now and its growing lava field is expected to reach the road in one to three weeks. Efforts will instead be focused on protecting the nearby town of Grindavík and Svartsengi power station if necessary.

“We’ve had many meetings over the past days and weeks and assess whether it’s feasible to protect Suðurstrandarvegur,” Fannar Jónasson, Mayor of Grindavík, told RÚV. “After a thorough review it was decided that it wouldn’t work, both for technical reasons, due to time, and not least due to the cost.” Fannar says authorities are now looking further ahead to see what infrastructure will need protecting if the eruption continues for many more months. “If it continues for a few months or years we might have to respond so it doesn’t flow to Svartsengi [power station] or even Grindavík. We want to have enough time to prevent that and create powerful barriers. That wouldn’t happen for a long time but structures are being designed nevertheless that would provide protection in that case.”

While geologists say there is no way to predict how long the Reykjanes eruption will last, several have stated that it could be a shield volcano in the making. Shield volcanoes are formed by long, slow eruptions like the one in Geldingadalir where lava forms a gently sloping volcano over time. Such eruptions have rarely occurred in Iceland since the end of the Ice Age but they can last years at a time.