COVID-19 in Iceland: Authorities Temporarily Suspend Use of AstraZeneca Vaccine Skip to content
A screenshot from RÚV. First COVID-19 vaccines being administered in Iceland, December 29, 2020
Photo: A screenshot from RÚV. First COVID-19 vaccines being administered in Iceland, December 29, 2020.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Authorities Temporarily Suspend Use of AstraZeneca Vaccine

Icelandic health authorities are temporarily suspending use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine while the European Medicines Agency researches whether there is a causal link between the drug and blood clots reported among recipients outside of Iceland. In a briefing in Reykjavík today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that the suspension will likely only last a few days until more information is received from the EMA, which so far does not consider there to be a causal link. Preliminary results do not indicate a higher rate of blood clots in those vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine when compared to the general population.

Iceland reported one new domestic case of COVID-19 yesterday, the fifth in a small outbreak of the British variant of COVID-19 tied to a traveller who returned to Iceland from abroad on February 26. Authorities are hopeful the outbreak has been contained, but stated that more cases are likely to emerge from individuals who have been quarantined in connection with the cases.

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

 

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

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 1 new domestic case (in quarantine) and 3 at the border. Total active cases: 18. 12,763 have been fully vaccinated (3.46% of the population) and an additional 20,526 have received one dose (5.57%).

The briefing has begun. Víðir mentions the seismic activity on Reykjanes. The activity continues and has been uncomfortable for residents of Grindavík, close to the origin of the quakes. The situation is unchanged, with a magma intrusion growing below the surface in the area.

Þórólfur takes over to discuss the COVID-19 numbers. Five cases have now been diagnosed in the group outbreak that is traced to a traveller with the British variant. They all have the British variant. The domestic infection detected yesterday was in quarantine. The person had been tested before and had tested negative, but then tested positive after a few days in quarantine. 1,300 samples were taken yesterday and we need to be prepared for more infections to emerge, although we hope they will be among people who are already in quarantine.

Current domestic restrictions are valid until March 17. Þórólfur does not believe there is cause to tighten restrictions at this point but he will not relax them further either. If many people start testing positive outside of quarantine, that will be cause to reconsider.

Since February 19, 17 active cases of the virus were detected at the border, 10 of which presented negative PCR test results before departure. Six of those tested positive at the border and four in the second test after five days of quarantine. Þórólfur: The negative PCR test certificate does not in and of itself ensure travellers are not carrying the virus. We must also beware of falsified certificates.

There’s a good chance that we’ve managed to contain the group infection traced to the British variant. Many concertgoers who were exposed to an infected individual last Friday will be tested for the second time today and it possible more infections will emerge.

Þórólfur discusses news that possible reported side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine include blood clots and that some countries around us have halted vaccinations with that vaccine. To ensure safety, Iceland will also hold off on vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine until further research indicates that there’s no causal link between the vaccine and reported blood clots. The European Medicines Agency does not believe there is a causal link between the two but it is being reviewed in detail. We expect to receive more information from the EMA.

Icelandic healthcare authorities have received no reports of any adverse effects of AstraZeneca vaccinations domestically. Around 13,000 people have been fully vaccinated and a further 20,000 have received their first shot in Iceland.

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur is asked if he is concerned the news about AstraZeneca might affect public trust in the vaccine. Þórólfur states that it’s possible, but reminds the public that when so many people are being vaccinated at once, we’ll always see issues come up. The key is to figure out if it’s linked to the vaccine or not. Preliminary results do not indicate a higher rate of blood clots in those vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine when compared to the general population. If that is the case, the deaths are not linked to the vaccine and this needs to be looked at realistically.

Þórólfur notes that Icelandic authorities haven’t stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine for good, only temporarily, and reminds that in the UK several millions have been vaccinated with that vaccine and it doesn’t seem that any serious side effects have been reported.

Þórólfur states that he will take vaccination into account when deciding on future restrictions. “We are, however, still far from that point. Even though we’ve vaccinated at-risk groups, it’s still a while until vaccination is widespread within younger age groups.” We’re “shovelling through the snowdrift” slowly but surely, says Þórólfur. Each vaccination is important towards reaching herd immunity.

Víðir notes how effective compartmentalisation has been when unknowingly infected individuals visit public places. It has helped contact tracing proceed more quickly.

Now that we are suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, will that affect the government’s vaccination timeline? Þórólfur says no.

Work on a colour-coded system for border regulations is ongoing.

Þórólfur is asked whether quarantine regulations will be changed for people in apartment buildings in light of the fact that the current outbreak appears to have spread through a shared stairwell with a traveller in quarantine. Þórólfur says it does not look like there are any grounds for forbidding people to quarantine in apartment buildings. Þórólfur does not believe the group infection is cause to tighten restrictions at the border.

Víðir ends the briefing by urging the public to get tested if they are experiencing even the most minor symptoms. The briefing has ended.

 

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next information briefing on Thursday, March 18 at 11.03am UTC.

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