Icelandic authorities’ gave a COVID-19 information briefing at 11 AM on the COVID-19 situation in Iceland and the upcoming children’s vaccinations. On the panel were Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Physician and project manager with the Chief Epidemiologist’s office Kamilla Sigríður Jósefsdóttir, and Acting Director of the National Hospital Guðlaug Rakel Guðjónsdóttir. During the briefing, panellists gave statements on the upcoming children’s vaccinations and discussed the situation at the hospital. Þórólfur mentioned the possibility of exempting people from quarantine mandates after receiving their booster shots, stating that this could be the start of relaxed restrictions.
Iceland’s COVID-19 numbers Jan 4:
New cases: 1,238 (459 in quarantine)
Total active cases: 9,125 ⬆️
Hospitalised: 30 (8 in ICU)
14-day incidence rate per 100,000: 3,037.4 ⬆️
Fully vaccinated: 77% of population
Booster shots administered: 160,357 (43.4%)
The information briefing went as follows:
Þórólfur starts the briefing by discussing the current covid-19 situation in Iceland. The pandemic’s spread has been growing domestically as in the countries around us. More than a thousand new cases were detected yesterday, and only about 43% were in quarantine when tested. New border cases remained unusually high, most likely due to the number of people returning home after Christmas vacations. Most new cases have the omicron variant, around 90% but around 100 people still test positive for the Delta variant daily.
Omicron seems to cause milder illness than delta
Hospitalised COVID-19 patients continue to increase. From December 1, the omicron variant has accounted for about 40% of hospitalisations but the last few days, the majority of new hospitalisations have the omicron variant. All in the ICU have the delta variant and most of them have not yet been vaccinated. The omicron variant seems to be more common in young adults but the delta variant spreads with children. Schools have now started again after Christmas break so in the next few days, we’ll see if the omicron variant will start to spread among children. The omicron variant seems to be 30-50% less likely to cause serious illness than delta.
Considering easing quarantine regulations for triple vaccinated
Þórólfur states we need to continue to have a tight hold on the infection rate so as not to overwhelm the healthcare system. Personal infection prevention, social restrictions and widespread vaccinations are key but they’re now considering easing quarantine regulations for the triple vaccinated. Þórólfur encourages everyone to get vaccinated if they can. Children’s vaccinations have begun and will continue this week and the next when larger shipments of the children’s vaccine will arrive. Þórólfur believes that in the next few weeks, we’ll manage to create enough immunity in society for infections rates to start going down and we can return to a more normal life. He is not ready to say that it will mark the end of the pandemic in Iceland.
Children’s vaccination campaign takes off next week
Kamilla takes over and gives a briefing on the children’s vaccination program. Vaccine for children 5-11 started arriving in December and since Christmas, around 250 children have received the first dose. The first major campaign will start next week when enough vaccine has arrived. They will be performed by local healthcare clinics, in healthcare clinic buildings or borrowed spaces. In some cases, the borrowed space will be school buildings.
All parents or guardians will have to approve their child’s vaccination
All parents and guardians will be notified that their child will be offered vaccination, receiving an email containing a link where they can express their stance on their child’s vaccination. If the parent has two guardians, both will be able to express their will and if there’s a discrepancy, the child will not be vaccinated. If the parents or guardians don’t state their will, the child will not be vaccinated so Kamilla urges parents to reply and let their stance be known.
National hospital in a state of emergency
Guðlaug Rakel takes over and goes over the situation at the National Hospital, which is now operating according to a state of emergency. Thirty people are hospitalised with COVID-19, 25 with an active infection and five in recovery. Individuals in the COVID outpatient ward are colour coded according to their state of health, more than 200 people are coded as yellow and 7 as red, meaning that hospitalisation is very likely. As the forecast looks now, the hospital is facing a steep hill, And Guðlaug notes that the hospital’s COVID forecast is as bad as the weather forecast today (extreme conditions expected). They’re doing everything they can to communicate and cooperate with other healthcare institutions to move patients from the hospital and to borrow qualified staff, for instance for the ICU.
207 hospital staff are in isolation, and several others are in quarantine, which also affects the hospital’s operation. Guðlaug states that for the hospital staff, the support from the people and the support from the government is vital. It’s very important that that support doesn’t break.
The unvaccinated get sicker than others. Six of eight people in the ICU are unvaccinated despite 91% of people in Iceland over the age of 12 being fully vaccinated.
The panel is now open for questions.
Guðlaug is asked about the percentage of hospital staff who have received booster shot. She believes the rate is currently at about 80% although some are still waiting to be eligible, and notes that participation has been strong.
The panel is asked how they communicate the importance of vaccination to parents. Kamilla replies that in the age group that is now being offered a vaccination, delta is still dominant and adult vaccination research shows that serious illness is less likely for vaccinated people against the omicron variant as well. Data shows that in children, two shots provide as much coverage as three for adults.
The frequency of hospitalisation since omicron was first discovered in Iceland is very similar to what is happening in the other Nordic countries. Þórólfur met with colleagues in the Nordic countries this morning and Iceland is facing a similar patterns as them.
Þórólfur is asked about the children’s ombudsman’s comments on the children’s vaccination program. The chief epidemiologist has been in contact with several people and institutions when preparing the children’s vaccination’s program. The operations is based on what local healthcare providers believe is best for their community, people with decades experience in children’s vaccinations.
Þórólfur is asked if vaccinations will now start to provide people certain privileges, such as the proposal to lift quarantine mandates for the triple vaccinated. Þórólfur states that yes, that is a possibility that this is the beginning of relaxing restrictions. This would be in accordance with epidemiological facts, as well supportive for the economy.
Guðlaug Rakel can not provide information on the reasons why the six unvaccinated people in the ICU have not received their vaccinations.
The children’s ombudsman has also pointed out the lack of research into the pandemic’s effect on children. Þórólfur replies that research has been done and is ongoing. He believes that it’s very important, both the effect of the pandemic and also the effect of the restrictions put in place.
When asked if they’ve considered postponing vaccinations and relying on rapid tests in schools instead, Kamilla says she doesn’t know why they would postpone children’s vaccinations when the need is as dire as it is now. Þórólfur adds that rapid tests wouldn’t come in the place of vaccinations, they are two different things.
Has the omicron wave reached its peak? Þórólfur replies that it’s a good question, we can wonder if we’ve reached the peak already as we’ve seen similar numbers for a few days now. We don’t have forecast models that give us the answers, in Denmark, they don’t expect to reach the peak until late January. We’ll need to monitor the situation.
Guðlaug adds that 8 hospitalised people have omicron and 15 with delta, 7 where the variant hasn’t been sequenced. She believes it important to note that people with Omicron also get hospitalised.
When asked about vaccine side effects, Kamilla replies that parents and guardians will receive all information on the vaccine and possible side effects. The Icelandic Health Insurance will continue to cover patients experiencing side effects like before.
Guðlaug Rakel is asked how many hospitalised COVID patients tested positive after being hospitalised for something else and how many were hospitalised because of covid. She says that these details don’t matter for the hospital, as the treatment requirements are the same. Every patient is tested on arrival and they’ve found many patients testing positive for covid, even though they were being hospitalised for a different reason. Around half of omicron patients have arrived because of covid and the other tested positive on arrival.
Þórólfur is asked about the Israeli plans for a fourth shot. Will we need to be injected every 4-5 months while this blows over? Þórólfur states that the question is interesting, Israel is ahead of the curve regarding vaccinations. He states that they’re not administering the fourth shot to everyone, only seniors and people with underlying conditions. As for the second question, Þórólfur states that this will have to depend on how the pandemic evolves, the answers aren’t clear at the moment.
Guðlaug is asked how many hospitalised people were found to have covid after they were hospitalised, and the answer is eight.
Þórólfur underlines that the problems they’re facing in the fight against covid-19 are the same as in the countries around us. That’s why conferring with other Nordic nations is very important and he is in constant contact with his Nordic colleagues. Our own experience and knowledge are also important. The most important thing is that we’re united in our efforts and what needs to be done.