Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated at Parliament today that the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in Iceland December 27 and that according to schedules, three to four thousand doses of the Pfizer vaccine will arrive on average each week from the end of December throughout March. In total, around 60,000 doses will arrive in Iceland. While deals with other vaccine production companies will secure enough vaccine for Iceland to reach herd immunity, distribution schedules are not ready.
Delivery schedules uncertain
Chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason had a more pessimistic outlook during an information briefing yesterday. He issued a clarification of his words yesterday afternoon stating that, at the moment, authorities only had dependable information on the delivery of the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine. While his words yesterday could have been understood to mean that vaccines from other producers wouldn’t arrive until the latter part of next year, that would be an overstatement. Iceland has already secured the right to vaccines for around 60-70% of the nation, but as of yet, it is not known when they will be delivered or how much each delivery will contain. Those plans will become clearer with time.
Weekly deliveries of 3-4,000 doses
Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir told Vísir that all nations in Europe will receive 10,000 doses of the vaccine around Christmas. After that, a proportional delivery schedule for European countries will commence. According to the schedule, Iceland will receive between 3 and 4 thousand doses per week from December 27 throughout March. “By the end of March, we will have received around 59-60,000 doses, counting the 10,000 we will receive December 27.,” Svandís stated. As each individual requires two doses of the vaccine, we should have received enough vaccine at the end of March to vaccinate 30,000 people.
First doses used to protect at-risk groups
The next steps pertain to the distribution of the first doses. Around 5,000 people, frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents are prioritised. “We will be able to use the first 10,000 doses of the vaccine in a concentrated effort to protect individuals most at risk,” stated Svandís. She pointed out that the first five priority groups include around 12,000 but the sixth, people over 60 years of age, contained around 73,000. These groups sometimes overlap.
A “very good” situation before mid-2021
Asked when she predicted at-risk groups would be fully vaccinated, Svandís replied: “As we’re using these first few doses in this way, we will cover frontline workers and nursing home residents immediately between Christmas and the New Year. The immunity response needs time to develop. But afterwards, we’ll start focusing on the oldest age group, 80+ and work our way towards younger people. We assume that we’ll have covered it in the first half of the year, considering all the uncertainty factors.” She predicts a “very good” situation before mid-2021.
Relaxing restrictions and vaccination go hand in hand
During discussions in Parliament, Svandís stated that it was self-evident that vaccinations went hand in hand with relaxing infection prevention restrictions. There won’t be one magic date when everyone is vaccinated and all restrictions are lifted. Authorities will work to relieve restrictions as vaccination efforts proceed, adding that their first priority was easing restrictions in upper secondary schools.
Deals in place to secure vaccine for Icelanders born before 2005
While the Pfizer vaccine is the only one yet to have a projected delivery date, the European Union has negotiated with six pharmaceutical companies producing vaccines, two of which Pfizer and AstraZeneca, have a signed deal with Iceland to deliver vaccines. She expects they will sign a deal with Moderna before the year is out. While no vaccine is yet to be registered in Europe, the Pfizer vaccine registration is expected to be complete before Christmas. The Moderna vaccine registration is expected soon after the New Year and AstraZeneca in February at the latest.
According to Svandís, Iceland will receive the vaccine in the same proportions as other countries in Europe but Icelanders, like Norwegians, have asked Sweden to handle vaccine deliveries to Iceland. “Our deals with the pharmaceutical companies will secure us enough vaccine to vaccinate Icelanders born before 2005,” Svandís told Mbl. at least 70% of that group will have to be vaccinated before we will have reached herd immunity.
Important that Icelanders don’t hesitate to get vaccinated
Svandís stated that it was important that Icelanders don’t hesitate to get vaccinated, adding that “even if the vaccine’s development was done at historical record speed, no security levels were skipped during its development.”Until now, there are no documented cases of serious side effects of the vaccines. the most common symptoms include slight flu symptoms and soreness at the injection site. Svandís mentions that there’s reason to take extra care with people with serious allergies. The vaccine has not been tested on pregnant women. She says the reason the development went so fast was thanks to the experience of vaccine development, generous funding, and solidarity between nations. She expects that if everything goes according to plan, the majority of the nation will be vaccinated in the first half of next year.
“We’re stepping into a new chapter in our fight against COVID-19. There’s every reason to celebrate and not get knocked down if the news is less optimistic one day to the next.”