Pfizer to Decide on Iceland Mass Vaccination Study This Week

COVID-19 vaccine producer Pfizer will decide this week whether to provide vaccines for the entire population of Iceland in order to conduct a study on herd immunity, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist told national broadcaster RÚV. In a series of informal meetings with Pfizer representatives, Icelandic authorities have proposed the nation as an ideal location for the manufacturer to conduct a study on herd immunity. The nation would benefit as well, ensuring itself access to enough of the Pfizer vaccine for the entire population and speeding up the journey toward achieving herd immunity to COVID-19.

Pfizer Considering Proposition

Iceland has several advantages as a research location for herd immunity by vaccination. Its small population (368,000) and good infrastructure would allow the nation to complete vaccination quickly. Icelandic authorities have also been fastidious at gathering data throughout the pandemic, including, for example, by sequencing all viral samples collected.

Icelandic media has been reporting on the informal talks between health authorities and Pfizer representatives for several weeks, and according to the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, the proposed study is still on the table. In a conversation with RÚV reporters today, Þórólfur stated he expects to receive a yes or no answer from the vaccine manufacturer this week. “The ball is still in their court,” Þórólfur stated. “They have not formally responded. I know they are checking to see whether they have enough vaccines for it. Because of course there is a great demand for vaccines and they have obligations all over the world.”

Could Speed Up Herd Immunity in Iceland

Pfizer has already reached a similar deal with Israeli authorities to vaccinate all citizens over 16 by the end of March in exchange for statistical data. CEO of Iceland’s deCODE genetics Kári Stefánsson stated that Danish authorities were also attempting to organise a similar study in collaboration with Pfizer. While he initially implied Danish efforts were negatively impacting Iceland’s chances with Pfizer, he later rescinded his comments.

According to current vaccination distribution schedules, Iceland expects to receive doses for 38,000 individuals by the end of March and achieve herd immunity by the second half of this year. Were the Pfizer study to happen, this timeline would be sped up significantly. Vaccination will be optional and free of charge in Iceland.

COVID-19 Vaccination Begins in Iceland

A screenshot from RÚV. First COVID-19 vaccines being administered in Iceland, December 29, 2020

Icelandic health authorities officially began administering the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this morning, turning over a new leaf in the battle against the pandemic. Four healthcare workers were the first to receive the vaccine, followed by a nursing home resident in Reykjavík. Some 1,600 nursing home residents and 770 healthcare workers will be vaccinated today or tomorrow. Icelandic authorities hope to vaccinate 75% of the population within the first half of 2021.

The first four people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in Iceland were ICU paramedic Christina Elí Zondo, ICU nurse Kristín Gunnarsdóttir, resident in internal medicine Elías Eyþórsson and Thelma Guðrún Jónsdóttir, assistant in the Emergency Department. The first doses of the vaccine that arrived in Iceland yesterday will be used to vaccinate healthcare workers and nursing home residents, as outlined in health authorities’ COVID-19 vaccine prioritisation.

Iceland to Receive Additional 80,000 Pfizer Doses

The Health Ministry announced yesterday that Iceland will receive an additional 80,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in addition to the 170,000 doses it has already signed a contract for. This means Iceland will receive enough Pfizer vaccine doses to vaccinate 125,000 people. The first 10,000 doses of the vaccine arrived yesterday, and between 3,000-4,000 doses are expected weekly in January and February. The timeline for the arrival of the remaining doses is not yet clear.

The vials in which the Pfizer vaccine doses are packaged have been found to have an additional (sixth) dose which is likely to be used in vaccination efforts as well. Read more about Iceland’s contracts with COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers here.

Iceland Celebrates “A New Chapter” in Fight Against COVID-19

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shipment Iceland

“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.”