Urgent Need for Healthcare Workers on Reserve Force

Emergency room

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has encouraged those with healthcare training to join the healthcare system’s reserve force. The healthcare system is experiencing strain due to the continuing rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations, and Svandís stated that the need is urgent.

“Due to the rapid increase in COVID-19 infections with increased strain on the healthcare system, more healthcare workers are urgently needed in the health service’s reserve force,” a government notice reads. “The assistance of healthcare professionals who are willing to come to work temporarily at short notice, whether full-time, part-time or for shift work, is requested, as circumstances allow.”

The reserve force was set up at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when it became clear that key healthcare institutions could face staffing problems due to staff illness or absences due to quarantine. The National University Hospital has now sent out a call for additional staff.

The reserve force accepts workers with diverse training, including nurses, doctors, and paramedics (and students in these disciplines) but also social workers, pharmacists, radiologists, and more. Workers with relevant healthcare training can register by filling out this form. Wages are based on collective agreements in the relevant institutions.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Vaccination Update

Nearly 100% of Icelandic residents over 80 are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. By the end of today, 90% of staff at Iceland’s largest hospital will have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Iceland is still far from reaching herd immunity against COVID-19, however: just 5.6% of the population of 368,590 have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 while an additional 6.7% have received one dose.

Janssen Vaccine Expected in April

Iceland began administering COVID-19 vaccines on December 29, 2020. Since then, 45,422 have received at least one dose of either the Moderna, Pfizer, or AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, which Icelandic authorities acquired via collective contracts through the European Commission. The European Medicines Agency recently approved a fourth COVID-19 vaccine produced by Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) and Iceland expects to receive 4,800 doses from the manufacturer in April. That will be enough to vaccinate 4,800 people, as the Janssen vaccine is administered in a single dose. Icelandic health authorities aim to vaccinate over 50% of the population by the end of July. Vaccine delivery is expected to speed up in the coming months as manufacturers ramp up production.

90% of Hospital Staff Have Begun Vaccination

The National University Hospital is not only Iceland’s largest hospital and location of its COVID-19 Ward, it is also the country’s largest workplace, with some 6,000 employees. Around 90% of the hospital’s staff have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine or will receive their first dose today. The hospital paused vaccination of its staff when Icelandic authorities suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month. Iceland made the move alongside several other European countries while the European Medicines Agency investigated instances of blood clots among individuals who had received the vaccine. Further research showed the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks. Icelandic authorities decided last week to resume use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on those 70 and older, as new research had shown its safety and efficacy among the demographic. At a briefing last week, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that the rare blood clot issues that may be linked to the vaccine were limited to younger people.

Some 340 Hospital Staff in Vaccine Limbo

The decision to limit the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to the older demographic leaves some hospital staff in limbo. RÚV reports that around 340 staff members of the National University Hospital who received one dose of AstraZeneca earlier this month are in the age group that’s now considered too young to receive the vaccine. Hildur Helgadóttir, project manager of the hospital’s epidemic committee, stated the hospital is waiting for a decision from the Chief Epidemiologist on how to proceed with the vaccination of those staff members. She noted, however, that a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine provides considerable protection against contracting the SARS-CoV-2 as well as developing serious illness.

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 to Prioritise Healthcare Workers, Elderly in COVID-19 Vaccination

Healthcare workers and nursing home residents will be prioritised access to a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available in Iceland. The Minister of Health has confirmed regulations defining ten priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination. Children born in 2006 or later will not be vaccinated unless they belong to risk groups.

The priority groups were defined in consideration of the World Health Organisation’s recommendations as well as perspectives that have emerged in neighbouring countries. Emphasis is placed on healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. The groups are prioritised in the following order:

  1. Healthcare workers and other employees that work in the emergency wards of the National University Hospital in Reykjavík and Akureyri Hospital in North Iceland.
  2. Healthcare workers and other employees of the National Hospital’s COVID-19 ward and inpatient ward as well as comparable wards at Akureyri Hospital; healthcare workers and other staff at health clinics as well as those who administer COVID-19 tests; and staff at nursing homes and retirement homes.
  3. Residents of nursing homes, retirement homes, and hospital geriatric wards.
  4. Licenced EMTs and paramedics that work in ambulance services; Coast Guard staff that work in the field; firefighters that work in the field; prison wardens; and police officers that work in the field.
  5. Other healthcare staff that have direct contact with patients “and require COVID-19 vaccination according to further decisions by the Chief Epidemiologist.”
  6. Individuals 60 years of age or older. Those who belong to this group and are also inpatients at healthcare institutions will be given priority.
  7. Individuals with underlying chronic illnesses that belong to particular high-risk groups for COVID-19 as further determined by the Chief Epidemiologist.
  8. Staff of preschools, primary schools, and junior colleges. Community and welfare service staff that have direct contact with users, including those that provide in-home services.
  9. Individuals that are vulnerable due to social or economic factors and are at particular risk.
  10. All others who wish to be vaccinated against COVID-19 according to further decisions by the Chief Epidemiologist.

The first five groups on this list number around 20,000 individuals, according to RÚV.

Several Vaccines and Access for Everyone

Vaccination will be free of charge. The Chief Epidemiologist is responsible for further prioritisation within each group and can also make exceptions to the regulations outlined above, but must provide reasoning to the Health Minister.

The Chief Epidemiologist is also responsible for determining which groups receive which vaccine. It is likely that locals in Iceland will be vaccinated using several different vaccines. The Icelandic government has made a deal with AstraZeneca to purchase the COVID-19 vaccine the company is developing, and will have access to other COVID-19 vaccines currently in development through the European Union. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that Icelandic authorities also have the option to negotiate with vaccine developer Pfizer. In a briefing in Reykjavík last Thursday, Þórólfur stated Iceland should have access to enough vaccines for everyone. He added that there was as of yet no definite information on when a vaccine would be available in Iceland.

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