At a briefing in Reykjavík today, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist encouraged locals to keep their optimism in check regarding news that COVID-19 vaccinations could arrive in Iceland as early as next month. While that is a possibility, the COVID vaccines Iceland is in line to acquire have yet to be approved by European authorities. Furthermore, vaccines will need to be administered in two doses and it takes about a month after the second dose for recipients to develop immunity. The Icelandic government has published a press release with the latest information on upcoming COVID-19 vaccination in Iceland.
Below is a lightly edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.
On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson.
Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland diagnosed 14 new domestic cases yesterday (only 1 out of quarantine) and 4 at the border. Total active cases: 205, 38 are in hospital and 2 in ICU.
The briefing has begun. Rögnvaldur starts by noting that everyone’s tired of COVID so he starts by discussing the upcoming cold snap. Þórólfur takes over to discuss the numbers. 14 were diagnosed yesterday domestically, a similar number as the past few days but only one wasn’t in quarantine, lower than in recent days. We don’t know how the pandemic is trending but we hope this is a positive sign, says Þórólfur. It’s positive that the proportion of positive cases of all those tested is decreasing. Hopefully this is an indication that community spread is on the wane.
We’re still seeing small group infections within families, groups of friends, an even one prayer group, says Þórólfur. We’re seeing the same strains we’ve been dealing with recently with but also a newer one from the border. I think we can say that the pandemic has been growing in a linear fashion in recent days but we don’t know what will happen next. Projections show the R factor to be just above one and we are in a delicate spot.
Þórólfur addresses comments from athletes, who have been vocal about how restrictive the regulations are to them. He says restrictions have heavily affected many groups, including tourism workers, all artists and performers, hair salons, restaurateurs, and the public as a whole. He is compassionate toward their plight and hopes they can return to their normal training activities soon. He adds that the restrictions have been successful in helping Iceland keep the pandemic at bay.
We’ve heard much talk on vaccinations in the past few days. Vaccines are awaiting a decision from European authorities. We can expect that by the end of December. But vaccination efforts might not start as soon as January in Iceland, let’s be cautiously optimistic. Also, vaccines become effective about one month after they are administered. We have to be patient. It is important to not let the positive news about vaccination lead to us relaxing our personal preventative efforts, says Þórólfur, as that will only lead to another wave.
The panel opens for questions. Will you suggest harsh restrictions until everyone has been vaccinated? That depends on how the pandemic develops domestically, answers Þórólfur. The UK’s decision to begin vaccinating is interesting but most countries in Europe agree that we need to wait until scientists give the green light, says Þórólfur.
How is Víðir? His symptoms go up and down, answers Rögnvaldur, but hopefully he’ll feel better soon.
When will we know the regulations from December 9? Þórólfur says regulations will be presented by the Health Minister, not him, and mentions that things can change quickly so he doesn’t expect they will be introduced a long time in advance.
Þóróflur and Rögnvaldur are asked about their Christmas “baubles,” and answer that they will be spending Christmas with their immediate family members only.
Will everyone receive the same amount of the vaccine? Usually, vaccines are administrated in equal doses for adults, no matter their size or weight, though children receive a smaller dose. We’ll vaccinate people according to instructions from the pharmaceutical companies.
Can you tell us more about the new strain? Þórólfur says he does not have much information but it would be interesting to know more.
The situation at the hospital is taken into account when Þórólfur issues his recommendations and the situation at the hospital right now is good. Þórólfur points out that strain on the hospital occurs around 2 weeks after cases are diagnosed, as it takes time for serious illness to develop.
The Director of the Icelandic Medicines Agency told Vísir reporters that they could get enough vaccinations for all Icelanders in the first shipment. Þórólfur says that is not the case, but we will most likely get all the vaccines we have access to at first in a single shipment.
Are you considering reopening swimming pools? Þórólfur answers: It’s like I’ve said before, I can’t discuss the details of regulation changes a long time in advance. There are always steps that must be taken and they have to be assessed. We’re aware that people are impatient for swimming pools and gyms to reopen but we’ll have to wait and see. When asked whether he will recommend regionalised restrictions, Þórólfur says there are varying opinions on the matter and he is looking into it.
Will vaccines be free? And will people with more funds have access to them in private clinics?
The vaccine regulations issued by Icelandic authorities are clear: the vaccines will be free and will be distributed through local public healthcare clinics and hospitals.
Þórólfur is asked about vaccination sceptics and their planned response to those who oppose being vaccinated. Þórólfur replies that once they have scientific reports that vaccines are safe and effective, they will recommend their use to the public. Of course, I don’t have a report on the vaccine’s long-term effects, that would be impossible with a new vaccine, but we must consider the long-term effects of the COVID-19 disease: all data points to them being considerable.
Regarding the pending colour-coded COVID risk warning system, the plan was to implement it this week but it’s being fine-tuned and will be presented after the weekend.
Will we get enough of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to vaccinate the whole nation? Þórólfur says no, we’ll probably get around 80,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and the EU is currently negotiating with Moderna. We don’t know how many doses of the Moderna vaccine we will receive, but it will probably be a little less. That is not enough for the whole nation but we’ll have to wait for more information.
Rögnvaldur says he’s heard that the public is being careful and has postponed gatherings they had planned for the weekend. He expresses his gratitude and says that if things continue as they’ve been, we might be able to have a few more people in our bubble for Christmas. Rögnvaldur ends the briefing by encouraging everyone to keep up the good work and says it will work out if we work together.
Iceland Review live-tweets authorities’ briefings every Monday and Thursday at 11.03am UTC.