COVID-19 in Iceland: Janssen Vaccinations Start Next Week With No Limitations Skip to content

COVID-19 in Iceland: Janssen Vaccinations Start Next Week With No Limitations

By Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason
Photo: Golli.

Iceland will start vaccinating with the Janssen vaccine and will receive additional doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Norway, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason disclosed at a regularly scheduled CIVD-19 information briefing today. He considers the government’s latest plans on tightened border restrictions before lifting restrictions on June 1 to be sensible but notes that they are dependent on vaccination progression. On the panel were Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson, and infectiologist Kamilla Sigríður Jósefsdóttir who was there to discuss vaccination proceedings.

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

Þórólfur starts by going over the numbers. Iceland reported 12 new domestic cases yesterday (2 out of quarantine) and 2 at the border. Total active cases: 120. 76,565 have now received one or both doses of vaccine, 20.77% of the population. Many tests were performed yesterday, 12 tested positive and 2 out of quarantine, likely connected to an earlier group outbreak. For the past few days, 75 have tested positive, 58 in quarantine. All of the cases are connected to 3 group outbreaks, the largest one is connected to a preschool. The infections have spread far and many are in quarantine. Widespread testing has found a few cases but none have tested positive in deCODE’s random testing initiative. Viral sequencing has not been completed in all cases but it’s likely that all infections diagnosed yesterday are connected to earlier group infections.

At this moment, Þórólfur will not recommend tighter domestic restrictions to the Ministry of Health but is ready to do so if the situation changes for the worse. Three patients are currently in hospital due to COVID-19, one in ICU but they will likely be discharged from the ICU today.

Þórólfur mentions the government’s bill that would give ministers more authority to impose certain border restrictions and states that as soon as the bill passes, he will prepare further action. Continued solidarity and vigilance is the key to ensuring that the government’s ambitious plans will be successful, says Þórólfur. Þórólfur thanks healthcare workers, those administering vaccines, and the Virology Department of the National University Hospital for their good work in recent weeks. He also thanks the staff at the Directorate of Health and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response.

Kamilla takes over to discuss vaccination efforts. Over 10% of adults in Iceland are now fully vaccinated and the number will continue to rise weekly. The number will rise faster in the coming days as vaccine availability increases. Doses of the Janssen vaccine will be administered next week and Iceland will also receive 16,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Norway.

The system that we use to oversee vaccination is not perfect, some people have received invitations without having underlying conditions. If people receive an invitation without having underlying conditions, they don’t need to formally reject it, they will receive another appointment when their age group is being vaccinated.

It will take time to call everyone in with underlying conditions as the group is large. Kamilla asks the public to keep in mind that people in this priority group will not necessarily be called in by age. Even if someone with the same condition as you has received their vaccination, that does not mean you’ve been forgotten. There are various factors that may put them ahead of you on the list.

Parents and guardians of chronically ill children will be called in for vaccinations soon. Authorities are working to identify such people who should be given priority. Such as parents of chronically ill children who are registered at a different address.

The panel is now open for questions:

Kamilla does not have the data for how many people have rejected the AstraZeneca vaccine. She is working on putting together those numbers.

Why are we using a vaccine that Norwegians won’t? Kamilla answers that it is not known who is most at risk of serious side effects. While Norway has had cases of these serious side effects, we haven’t. Þórólfur notes that most countries in Europe continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine, only Denmark and Norway are holding off.

Þórólfur is asked about the benchmark in the government’s bill used to define high-risk countries. He replies that it was not his decision and that many things are still unclear regarding the bill, such as if those exact numbers will be included in the bill or if the definition will be left up to the Chief epidemiologist.

There will be no limitations on who will be vaccinated with the Janssen vaccine as the cases of serious side effects don’t seem to be as serious as the AstraZeneca ones and there have been such few incidents that there’s not enough data to indicate a gender or age imbalance.

When asked if the government’s actions at the borders are enough, Þóróflur replies that there are only four countries in Europe that currently have regions that qualify as extreme-risk, meaning travellers arriving from there are required to quarantine at a quarantine hotel, but there are at least 8 countries with regions qualifying as high-risk. If one region within a country qualifies as extreme or high risk, everyone arriving from that country will need to stay at quarantine hotels, regardless of what region they are coming from. Poland is one of the countries that would qualify as high risk according to the new system.

Þórólfur is asked if the government needs to do better to reach the Polish diaspora in Iceland. The information team has made a great effort to reach the Polish community in Iceland as well as other groups, Þórólfur says. “We’re trying. This briefing for example is translated into Polish. Whether we’ve succeeded is another question.”

Víðir ends the briefing by thanking the public for their solidarity over the past winter. Tomorrow is the First Day of Summer and good things are ahead. The briefing has ended.

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