“The battle against COVID-19 has been long and hard, but it is my belief that a new chapter in the fight begins today,” Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist stated this morning as authorities received the first shipment of Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to the country. Drug distributor Distica will now review the shipments to ensure they have not been damaged, and await the final go-ahead from Pfizer. Vaccination is scheduled to begin tomorrow.
The first shipment contains 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to vaccinate 5,000 people. Healthcare workers and nursing home residents will be the first to receive the vaccine, which is administered in two doses with a minimum 21-day interval. Despite their optimism and celebration, authorities underlined the importance of maintaining personal preventative measures and social distancing in Iceland until herd immunity is achieved.
The following is a lightly-edited transcription of our live-tweeting from the briefing at Distica facilities this morning.
Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir takes the microphone. She congratulates Icelanders on this watershed day. Vaccination begins tomorrow, we can do this quickly and well thanks to our strong healthcare system, staff, and infrastructure, says Svandís. Iceland reported its first COVID-19 case on February 28. No one believed then that a vaccine would be developed so quickly, Svandís says. The reason it has been possible to develop one so quickly is thanks to co-operation. Co-operation between countries and institutions. We know we are stronger together. It’s also thanks to the collaboration between Nordic countries and European countries that this vaccine has arrived today.
Svandís says Iceland has ensured it will acquire more COVID-19 vaccine doses than in needs for its population, and will provide the excess to those who need it most. Iceland’s contract for the Moderna vaccine is to be signed December 30. The contract for the AstraZeneca vaccine was signed on October 15 and it is also expected to be licensed in the EU soon. “2021 will be the year we win the fight against COVID-19.”
Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason takes over. “The battle against COVID-19 has been long and hard, but it is my belief that a new chapter in the fight begins today.”
It is good to remember that this vaccine is very effective against COVID-19 and is very safe. I will therefore encourage everyone who is offered the vaccine to take it. “I will encourage all residents that can be vaccinated to do so, as it is a prerequisite for our continued success in this battle.”
We still need to follow the necessary precautions, and heed the infection prevention regulations, Þórólfur reminds the public. Together, we will come out of the snowstorm we’ve been walking through for the past year. Many people have worked hard to bring the vaccine here to Iceland but two people have stood out, says Þórólfur. Þórólfur gives Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir and the CEO of Distica Júlía Rós Atladóttir bouquets as a token of thanks for their work in getting the vaccine to Iceland. “Thank you, and again, congratulations.”
The panel opens for questions. “Who will receive the first dose?” We’ll find out tomorrow. Svandís states that she has butterflies in her stomach.
Svandís followed the shipment’s progress through flight radar and according to her, the progress was successful. Júlía takes over to explain thatDistica staff will now open the boxes and confirm the shipment has maintained the required temperature of -80 degrees Celsius. Provided the shipment has not been damaged, Distica will then need the go-ahead from Pfizer before starting vaccination.
Þórólfur is asked about a possible Iceland-Pfizer vaccine research project that would ensure more doses arrive in Iceland soon. He says there have been no developments on that front. Svandís ends the briefing by stating that she’s extremely happy about this start of a new chapter. “We must continue to show solidarity and optimism, good luck to us all.”