COVID-19 in Iceland: 10% of Imported Vaccines Sent Abroad Again

Around 10% of all the COVID-19 vaccines imported to Iceland have been exported again, RÚV reports. Some 2,000 doses expired this month while in storage at Distica, the company responsible for COVID-19 vaccine imports to Iceland.

Since the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Iceland on December 28, 2020, Iceland has imported around 1 million doses Pfizer, Moderna, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccines. The country has since exported around 10% of those, or 100,000 doses, to Thailand.

Distica CEO Júlía Rós Atladóttir says the import company is now receiving around 10,000 doses of vaccine monthly, considerably fewer than at the height of the vaccination drive. Júlía says no doses delivered to Iceland had expired until this month.

“We have not discarded any vaccines and none of them have expired until just recently. This April, the 2,000 doses that we had in storage here expired, a completely insignificant [proportion],” Júlía stated.

COVID-19 in Iceland: 80+ Offered Fourth Dose

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has decided to offer a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to those 80 years of age and older, as well as all residents of nursing homes, Vísir reports. The decision is based on data from abroad that show COVID infection among older demographics can lead to serious illness even after three doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Þórólfur expects infection rates to remain low throughout the summer but points out that there is still uncertainty about how long immunity from vaccines and previous COVID-19 illness lasts.

“There is data emerging both from across the pond and from Europe that infections among these individuals that have received three doses can be very serious, much more serious and worse than among younger people that have received three doses,” Þórólfur stated. “There are recommendations from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Medicines Agency to offer these people a fourth dose and it’s on that basis that we are doing so.”

Chronically ill encouraged to receive fourth dose

Previously, the Chief Epidemiologist has only recommended fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine to those who are chronically ill. Þórólfur says, however, that participation among the group has been lower than hoped when it comes to the fourth shot. The general population is still not being offered a fourth dose in Iceland. Currently, 81% of eligible residents in Iceland are fully vaccinated, and around 56% of the total population have received a third dose.

Unknown how long immunity lasts

Iceland is currently reporting 100-200 new COVID-19 cases per day, but authorities believe the true number to be higher. Seventeen are currently in hospital with COVID-19 infection. Þórólfur says he expects infection rates to remain low throughout the summer, but the coming autumn and winter are less certain, both because COVID-19 has shown itself to be seasonal and because we still do not know how long immunity provided by vaccines or by COVID-19 infection lasts.

“There are viruses that ramp up in the fall and winter time and I think it’s fairly likely we will have a good period this summer. Then it’s a question of what will happen in the fall. We just have to wait and see. I’m not predicting anything bad, necessarily, but we have to just monitor the situation closely.”

Majority of Icelanders Support Vaccination of Children Aged 5-11

COVID-19 vaccination children

Just under 75% of Icelanders are in favour of vaccinating children aged 5-11 against COVID-19, according to the results of a newly-published survey from Maskína. Only 11% were opposed to vaccinating that age group. Icelandic health authorities began offering vaccination to 5 to 11-year-olds in January and 45% have already received their first dose.

The nearly 75% of respondents that were in favour of vaccinating the age group split into two camps: those who were “very much in favour” made up 49.3% of the total respondents, while those who were “rather in favour” made up 25%, for a total of 74.3%. Older respondents were more likely to be in favour of vaccination of children 5-11. In the oldest group (60+), 86% were in favour of vaccinating the demographic, while only 62% of those in the youngest group (18-29 years) were in favour of vaccinating 5 to 11-year-olds.

Categorising the responses by political affiliation revealed that supporters of the Left-Green Movement, Pirate Party, Social-Democratic Alliance, and the Socialist Party were most in favour of vaccinations for children 5-11. The survey took place between January 6 and 17 had 902 respondents from across the country.

Vaccination is optional and free for all age groups in Iceland. In the case of children, both parents or guardians must approve vaccination for their child. Only the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in those 15 years of age and younger in Iceland.

Of Iceland’s total population, 78% are fully vaccinated, and 52.3% have received a booster dose.

Quarantine Regulations Eased for Vaxxed and Boosted Individuals

Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson

Quarantine regulations will be eased for individuals who have both been fully vaccinated and received a booster, as well as for fully vaccinated people who have recovered from a previously confirmed COVID infection. The changes were announced by Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson on Friday on the government’s website.

Willum Þór made the decision to loosen regulations on the recommendation of Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, who cited research from the UK and Denmark that indicates that fully vaccinated and boosted individuals are much less likely to become infected with COVID, particularly the delta strain. The research shows that boosted individuals are also less susceptible to omicron infection, although vaccination has been shown to be less effective against omicron than delta.

The new quarantine regulations for boosted and fully vaccinated/previously infected individuals will go into effect immediately.

It is hoped that the easing of quarantine regulations will make a significant impact in boosting the economy and making day-to-day life easier in Iceland, where around 160,000 people—roughly 43% of the population—has received a COVID 19 booster.

“We need to keep society going as much as possible,” said Willum Þór, “whether we’re looking at schools, welfare services, or various economic activities. As it stands now, this response is absolutely necessary.”

Per the announcement on the government’s website, qualifying individuals who are otherwise subject to quarantine are now:

  • permitted to go to work and/or seek out necessary services, such as health services, as well as go to grocery stores and pharmacies, and use public transportation
  • not permitted to attend gatherings or locations where there are 20 or more people present except in the specific instances mentioned above
  • required to wear a mask when in the company of anyone except their closest contacts (i.e. family or people they live with); masks are required even when a distance of two metres is observed
  • not permitted to visit healthcare institutions such as nursing homes without special permission from the institution in question
  • required to avoid contact with persons who have a high risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19

Qualifying individuals are expected to observe quarantine under the above protocols for five days; their quarantine ends on Day 5, provided that they receive a negative result on a PCR test. Individuals who notice symptoms of COVID during their five-day quarantine are urged to get a PCR test without delay. Quarantine remains a minimum of five days.

Drop-In Vaccination Days in Reykjavík Throughout December

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

The first round of Iceland’s COVID-19 booster shot campaign has concluded, with over 135,891 shots administered to fully vaccinated individuals. The Reykjavík capital area healthcare system will now be holding drop-in vaccination days over the next three weeks, until December 30, RÚV reports. Healthcare authorities are also organising a vaccination campaign for children 5-11 years old, pending approval from health authorities.

“We are no longer sending out [booster shot] invitations,” explained Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, director of nursing for capital area health centres. “Now we’re maybe also welcoming students who are coming from abroad and are coming home for Christmas. We want to keep a lifeline open for them. And also if there are any people out there who are still unvaccinated then absolutely hurry on down.”

The booster shot campaign will continue in January, and those who received their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine at least 5 months prior will receive SMS invitations to receive their booster. Health authorities are preparing a vaccination campaign for children 5-11 years of age, pending authorisation for that age group to receive COVID-19 vaccines. “The Chief Epidemiologist has yet to make that decision. To go into that group and vaccinate, but we want to be ahead of the curve as the ones who would carry it out and are already thinking about how we would do it,” Ragnheiður stated. “It would likely be done by going into all schools. And during school hours. And we would get help from all of the healthcare centres to carry out that project, so it will be a big and complex project.”

The schedule for drop-in vaccination in Laugardalshöll, Reykjavík this month is as follows:

This week (10:00 AM – 3:00 PM):

  • Monday, December 13
  • Tuesday, December 14
  • Wednesday, December 15
  • Thursday, December 16

Next week (10:00 AM – 3:00 PM):

  • Monday, December 20
  • Tuesday, December 21
  • Wednesday, December 22

The following week (10:00 AM – 12:00 PM):

  • Monday, December 27
  • Tuesday, December 28
  • Wednesday, December 29
  • Thursday, December 30

Vaccination Bus to Offer COVID-19 Jabs Across Reykjavík

The capital area healthcare service is planning to operate a mobile vaccination station that will offer COVID-19 inoculation to residents across Reykjavík, Fréttablaðið reports. Around 11% of Iceland’s residents who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination have yet to receive the jab.

“We’re still in the early stages but it might be that the car or bus would stop outside a work area or just in Smáralind or Kringlan shopping centres, and people could get the vaccine there,” Óskar Reykdalsson, director of capital area healthcare centres, explained.

Vaccinate to reduce spread and strain on hospital

Over 89% of Icelandic residents 12 years of age and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Icelandic health authorities have begun administering booster shots en masse and hope to offer them to all eligible demographics by the end of March. While vaccination has lowered rates of infection, transmission, and serious illness in Iceland, it has not led to herd immunity. Iceland is currently in the middle of its largest wave of infection since the start of the pandemic.

The mobile vaccination drive aims to reach those that are still unvaccinated against COVID-19. “Number one is just to reach as many people as possible and reduce the spread of the disease and reduce strain on the hospital,” Óskar stated. “We do that by vaccinating as many people as possible.” He added that the Chief Epidemiologist and others have identified which groups have yet to be vaccinated and the drive will aim to make vaccination accessible to those groups.

Drop-in for unvaccinated on Thursdays and Fridays

Those who have yet to receive COVID-19 vaccination, or those who have yet to receive their second dose of vaccine, can also drop in to Laugardalshöll in Reykjavík between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM on Thursdays and Fridays in the coming weeks. The Pfizer mRNA vaccine will be administered on both days, while the AstraZeneca and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines will be offered on Thursdays and the Janssen vaccine on Fridays.

COVID-19 Booster Shots Could Help Iceland Reach Herd Immunity

COVID-19 briefing Iceland Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Of the 30,000 people who have received a booster shot in Iceland, only 10 have contracted COVID, around 0.03%. Of the 270,000-280,000 that are fully vaccinated, 4,500 people have contracted COVID, around 1.6%. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist stated there is strong evidence that booster shots could create herd immunity in Iceland.

Three doses 90% more effective than two

In an interview on TV program Kastljós last night, Þórólfur explained that experts initially hoped herd immunity would be achieved when the majority of a population was fully vaccinated with two doses of COVID-19 vaccine. That hope was based on research with early variants of SARS-CoV-2. The Delta variant of COVID-19, however, proved more infectious than experts anticipated.

While vaccination has significantly lowered rates of infection, transmission, and serious illness in Iceland, it still does not prevent large waves of infection. “Now it has come to light that two doses are not quite good enough,” Þórólfur stated. “For example in Israel, it came to light that the third dose given 5-6 months after dose two works very well, is 90% more effective than dose two in preventing infection, transmission, and serious illness.” He added: “I think there are all indications for us to hope that dose number three will create herd immunity here or at least significantly [reduce the spread of COVID].”

Booster shots administered over next five months

Iceland’s health authorities will begin administering booster shots en masse next week and expect to administer 120,000 before the end of the year. All eligible residents are expected to be offered a booster shot by the end of March 2022. “We hope that people will show up because the booster shot not only protects the individual from infection and serious illness, but also from spreading infection. That way we should be able to get out of COVID, if everything works as it seems like it will.”

Over 76% of Iceland’s total population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Þórólfur stated that around 11% of those eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in Iceland (those 12 years and older) have yet to be vaccinated.

COVID-19 in Iceland: 10,000 Per Day Offered Booster Shot

Icelandic healthcare system

Around 120,000 Icelandic residents will be invited to receive a COVID-19 booster shot before the end of the year, RÚV reports. Health authorities are preparing to begin administering up to 10,000 booster shots per day from next week, and expect to offer all of those who have been fully vaccinated a booster shot by March.

For residents of the Reykjavík capital area, booster shots will be administered in Laugardalshöll. “We are going to speed up considerably and starting on Monday, November 15,” stated Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, director of patient care for the capital area. “We are going to take four weeks and will be doing three days a week. That’s 12 days in total and we expect to invite 10,000 people per day.”

Most of those who will be invited to receive a booster shot before the end of the year are people over 60 and those with underlying illnesses, e.g. those who received their second dose of vaccine before mid-June this year. Other demographics will not receive an invitation before January. Deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to Iceland have continued monthly and Ragnheiður says that reserves have accumulated. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will likely be used for most booster shots.

Booster shots increase immunity, research shows

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that data from abroad show that booster shots increase immunity against COVID-19 and that side effects from the shots are very rare. “Side effects after vaccination are much rarer than after COVID so if you’re going to choose between getting COVID or vaccination, it’s much more likely you will react badly to COVID infection than vaccination,” Þórólfur stated.

Around 11% still not vaccinated among eligible population

Icelandic health authorities held a COVID-19 briefing last week for the first time in nearly three months in response to rising COVID-19 case numbers. Þórólfur encouraged those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so, as local data shows vaccinated lowers rates of infection, hospitalisation, and serious illness. Around 76% of Iceland’s total population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Þórólfur stated that around 11% of those who had been invited for vaccination had yet to be vaccinated.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Moderna Vaccine Used for 60+

COVID-19 vaccine vaccination Iceland

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist announced yesterday that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will only be used for booster shots among those 60 and older. Health authorities in Iceland temporarily suspended use of the Moderna vaccine on October 8, 2021 after data from Nordic countries showed an increased likelihood of cardiac inflammation as a side effect of the drug. The Chief Epidemiologist stated that the decision would be reviewed if new data emerges suggesting the vaccine is safe for younger demographics.

“Unpublished data from the Nordic countries indicate that the risk of cardiac inflammation after vaccination against COVID-19 is much higher among 18 to 39-year-olds if the Moderna vaccine is used than after vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine.” the announcement reads. “Cardiac inflammation after vaccination is much less common among older demographics. It should be noted that the use of the Moderna vaccine in 12 to 17-year-olds is much lower than the use of the Pfizer vaccine in Europe and no comparison of the safety of the vaccines in that age group has been made in this study.”

Over 75% of Iceland’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including over 60% of those 12-15 years old (the youngest eligible demographic). Icelandic health authorities have begun administering booster shots to vulnerable populations and healthcare workers. Those under 60 who have received a single shot of Moderna will be invited to complete their vaccination with a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Men 18-39 are not recommended to accept the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Just over 20,000 residents of Iceland have been fully vaccinated with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Data shows that the vast majority of vaccination side effects emerge shortly after vaccination takes place.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist: Curbing Infections Remains the Goal

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

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.”