COVID-19 in Iceland: AstraZeneca Vaccine to be Used on Under-65 Skip to content

COVID-19 in Iceland: AstraZeneca Vaccine to be Used on Under-65

By Yelena

COVID-19 vaccine vaccination Iceland
Photo: Almannavarnir/Facebook. The first COVID-19 vaccines are administered to healthcare workers in Iceland, December 29, 2020.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist will submit his recommendations for relaxed domestic restrictions in the country within the coming days. At a briefing in Reykjavík this morning, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that loosening restrictions would be a very gradual process in order to prevent a surge of infection such as neighbouring countries are experiencing. Iceland has only reported two domestic COVID-19 infections in the past week, but it is clear the SARS-CoV-2 virus has not been completely eradicated from the community, Þórólfur stated.

Health authorities’ main concern is new cases crossing the borders and subsequently spreading in the community. Þórólfur expressed hope that amendments to Iceland’s infection prevention legislation currently being read in Parliament would be passed as quickly as possible in order to clarify the legal framework for additional border restrictions, such as requiring arriving travellers to quarantine at designated government facilities.

As elsewhere in Europe, COVID-19 vaccination is proceeding slowly in Iceland. The Chief Epidemiologist stated, however, that the nation can expect to receive 14,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in February in weekly deliveries. Iceland will receive at least 74,000 doses from AstraZeneca by the end of March, enough to vaccinate 34,000 people. The vaccine will be used on those under 65 years of age, as the older demographic was not included in trials for the vaccine. Doses will be administered three months apart, which ensures the vaccine provides 90% efficacy.

The decision to exclude those 65 and over from the AstraZeneca administration will not affect the timeline for vaccination of elderly people, authorities stated. Enough doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are expected in the coming months to complete vaccinating those 70 and older by the end of the first quarter.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of today’s COVID-19 briefing.


On the panel: Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson of the Civil Protection Department and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on Iceland reported 0 new domestic cases yesterday and 1 at the border. Total active cases have dropped to 33, 13 are in hospital. 4,853 have been fully vaccinated.

The briefing has begun. Víðir starts the meeting by thanking Icelanders for participating in infection prevention as well as chiding people who are rude to staff that are reminding the public of mandatory mask usage. Authorities have received increasing reports of rude patrons from shop staff and managers. “Don’t be the type who is annoying and rude to staff in shops,” says Víðir.

Þórólfur takes over to go over the daily numbers. Today’s numbers are low. No new domestic cases and one at the border. 60 people have been diagnosed with the UK variant of the virus, 14 of them domestically, all in close contact with border infections and there has been no further domestic spread. The situation at the hospital is good, says Þórólfur.

In the past week, we had two domestic infections, one out of quarantine. We’ve managed to curb the third wave but we haven’t eradicated the virus from the community entirely. We’ll ease restrictions slowly, as discussed, and I have suggestions for mild loosening of restrictions which I will submit to the Ministry either before or just after the weekend, says Þórólfur.

Our main concern these days is the border because we can still get infections through the border, especially with the UK variant spreading in neighbouring countries, says Þórólfur. Even if the system has worked so far, something could always go wrong. We’ve had some instances of people giving false contact info making it hard to reach them for follow-up tests. Þórólfur: Strange as it seems, Iceland has some of the most relaxed border restrictions in Europe and we need to make sure people aren’t taking advantage of that.

Regarding vaccines, we have gotten a distribution schedule from AstraZeneca and expect 14,000 doses in February, with deliveries weekly. We’ve decided that we will use the vaccine like our neighbouring countries – only for those under 65 years of age. Þórólfur underlines that individuals in Iceland will not have the option to choose which vaccine they receive. All COVID-19 vaccines have similar effectiveness when administered properly.

Þórólfur is pleased with the success of inoculation of those 90+ this week. He especially appreciated the happiness and gratitude people displayed for the privilege of vaccination. Iceland can expect to receive at least 74,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of March, enough to vaccinate 34,000 people.

The panel opens for questions. “Will we start to request a negative PCR test before departure like many other countries are doing, and will we require people without long-term residency in Iceland to stay in quarantine hotels between tests?” Þórólfur says these two questions need to be better determined by authorities in the coming weeks.

“Was the decision on how to use the AstraZeneca vaccine made domestically or based on decisions in other countries?” Þórólfur: We’ve based it on the available research. There’s no reason to believe the AstraZeneca vaccine won’t work for older people, it’s just that no research has been conducted specifically on that demographic. Since we won’t be using it to vaccinate older people we’ll use it for other priority groups.

Þórólfur is asked about Sputnik V, the Russian-made vaccine. Þórólfur has no information on whether the EU or the Iceland Medicines Agency is looking at purchasing the vaccine. The Russian vaccine is 90% effective much like the other vaccines we’re administering in Iceland, the Pfizer and Moderna ones. Also the AstraZeneca ones when the injections are spaced three months apart like we’re doing. The first dose of the AstraZeneca appears to give 60-70% protection. There is a low risk of infection domestically at this time. So it does not pose problems to wait 3 months for the second dose, which gives 90% protection.

According to Þórólfur, allocating AstraZeneca vaccine doses to those under 65 will not negatively affect plans for senior citizen vaccinations as we will still receive vaccines from other producers. The AstraZeneca vaccine doses are an addition to what was previously expected, so senior citizen’s vaccinations will proceed according to schedule. As authorities won’t be administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to senior citizens, the additional doses arriving from AstraZeneca will be used to start vaccinating nursing home staff and people with underlying conditions, among other priority groups.

Þórólfur states that while the slated progress of vaccinations for the year’s first quarter will be slow, he has hope that vaccine production will speed up. How much faster things will go, however, remains to be seen. Þórólfur: If Iceland were chosen to participate in a Pfizer herd immunity study, we have all the infrastructure we need to vaccinate tens of thousands of people per day and vaccinate large sections of the population quite quickly. There is still however no further news of negotiations between Icelandic authorities and Pfizer.

Youth Centre staff has asked if they have been left out of priority groups, can Þórólfur confirm that they’re in priority group 8? Þórólfur states that he can’t confirm that but they’re receiving plenty of messages from groups who believe they should be prioritised. The Chief Epidemiologist adds that prioritisation can always be criticised but hopefully we’ll begin to receive vaccines more quickly. Youth centre staff need not despair, their time will come. When asked about people with Down’s Syndrome and their place in the line, he repeats that many groups want to be pushed further up and authorities are trying their best to keep the order as fair as possible. Many different groups have asked to receive vaccines earlier based on exactly the same reasoning. Authorities are doing their best, says Þórólfur.

Þórólfur is asked about the possibility of inoculating people with two different vaccines. He states that this is not relevant to Iceland as things stand. The only reason he could imagine for using multiple vaccines on a single person would be if they had different levels of effectiveness on different variants of the virus. Víðir ends the briefing by urging the public to reconsider unnecessary travel abroad, as they are likely to run into problems with border restrictions elsewhere. He reminds people to wash their hands, wear a mask, and get tested if experiencing symptoms. Compassion for each other will get us through this, says Víðir. The briefing has ended.


Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next COVID-19 briefing on Monday, February 8 at 11.03am.

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