Iceland’s authorities will continue to protect at-risk groups from COVID-19 and work to curb infection rates in the current wave, says the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason. Þórólfur made headlines for his statements in a radio interview yesterday morning that herd immunity would be reached by letting the virus spread through society while preventing the hospital from collapse. Later that day, he told reporters that his words were misinterpreted and authorities’ policy toward the ongoing pandemic remains unchanged.
Over 69% of Iceland’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While the vaccination is preventing serious illness and hospitalisation, it is not preventing infection with or transmission of COVID-19 as much as experts had hoped. Iceland’s COVID-19 incidence rate is at a record high, though proportionally fewer are becoming seriously ill than in previous waves. The change has led Icelandic authorities to review their approach to tackling the pandemic.
Herd immunity through vaccination
“The policy of the epidemiological authorities is that we are reviewing the chapter that we are entering now and I have written a memorandum to the Health Minister on how to proceed, how we should behave in the coming months,” Þórólfur told RÚV. “Now of course the main task is to curb this wave that is ongoing now and we can do that in many ways. Especially by tightening our grip at the border and minimising the flow of the virus into [the country] and trying to curb the domestic wave here although it may not be with the harshest measures we have implemented thus far. Hopefully we will be able to curb it without having to resort to that.”
Þórólfur confirmed that along with border restrictions, Iceland would need to continue to have domestic restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Achieving herd immunity is, however, still a goal and the Chief Epidemiologist stated that Iceland has come a long way toward it. “The aim is to achieve herd immunity in one way or another through vaccination, and we have tried that. Half of those who are vaccinated are immune so we have achieved herd immunity among them. In order to develop herd immunity here in the community, more people need to be immune to the virus and it’s not possible to do that in any way other than vaccinating with this third dose, revaccinating those who are the most vulnerable.”
Þórólfur asserted that authorities would not be implementing a policy of aiming for herd immunity through mass infection. “Just letting the virus spread freely through society, no one said that. We need to have some restrictions both at the border and domestically.”