No Evidence of Link Between Nursing Home Deaths and Vaccination

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

Three deaths have been reported in Iceland among individuals who had received a COVID-19 vaccine, RÚV reports. All three individuals were elderly nursing home residents with underlying illnesses. Rúna Hauksdóttir Hvannberg, director of the Icelandic Medicines Agency says there is no evidence of a causal link between the vaccinations and deaths, but they will be investigated nonetheless.

Iceland began vaccinating for COVID-19 on December 29, and 4,917 healthcare workers and nursing home residents received their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine just before the new year. Rúna pointed out that these first doses were administered to some of the oldest and most ill members of the population, many of which have underlying illnesses. In such cases, it is often impossible to find a causal link between vaccination and side effects, and according to Rúna, the chance the deaths were connected to the vaccine was negligible.

“It is not certain that this is a side effect of the drug, not at all, that there is a causal link to it,” Rúna stated. “But it is important to report it so it is reviewed because there is a causal relationship in time. Even though these are individuals who are elderly and with underlying illnesses. So it is very important to gather this information.”

The Icelandic Medicines Agency has since received 16 reports of side effects from the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, ten of which were among healthcare workers. Ten of the 16 reported only mild side effects. All of the reports have been passed on to the European Medicines Agency.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason echoed Rúna’s statements. “One must remember that here we were vaccinating the most ill and oldest members of our society, who are infirm and have chronic illnesses,” Þórólfur stated. “There are a number of things that can impact them that are not connected to vaccination in the case of our most ill people.” The Chief Epidemiologist added: “The proportion of people who died in large-scale trials, where tens of thousands were vaccinated, was lower than the control group where people were not vaccinated.”

Icelandic Police Drop Charges Against Hemp Farmers

hemp farming Iceland

Police have dropped charges against farmers in Gautavík, East Iceland who are cultivating industrial hemp, RÚV reports. The plant is derived from a strain of Cannabis sativa, which contains low concentrations of THC, the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. As such, the crops were reported to police by the Icelandic Medicines Agency as being in violation of current law. Following an investigation, however, police elected to drop charges and it’s likely that the government will soon remove legal barriers to hemp production, thereby allowing farmers to produce hemp for use in a range of products, such as fibreboard and eco-friendly concrete.

Farmers received a government grant

After being notified of the crops, authorities took samples and tested them for THC. No active THC was found in the plants; industrial hemp contains very little THC and cannot be consumed as a drug. However, current law bans the production of any plant containing any traces of the compound.

The farmers from Gautavík are not the first to have their industrial hemp crop questioned by the Medicines Agency. Another farmer was told that cultivating the crop was in violation of Icelandic narcotics law in 2013. However, in a letter police wrote detailing the conclusion of their current investigation, they affirmed that in this instance, the Gautavík farmers had received permission from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) to import 75 kilos of hemp seeds and that the shipment had gone through customs without comment. Police also point out that the farmers received a processing grant of ISK 700,000 ($4,846/€4,503) from the Ministry of Industries and Innovation to support their efforts. In light of the inconsistencies with which the law has been enforced, police concluded that it was unlikely that the hemp farmers would be convicted if the case went to court and elected to drop the charges.

Hemp fibreboard, hemp concrete, hemp salt, hemp tea

Food and agriculture consultant Oddný Anna Björnsdóttir is one of the farmers cultivating industrial hemp in Gautavík and says that she will continue to do so. “We’ve already produced fibreboard from the industrial hemp that we harvested last summer and used it to make giftware. Likewise fire-resistant hemp concrete, and we’ve also experimented with making hemp salt and hemp tea. So there are many possibilities for making valuable products out of this raw material.”

Based on the Icelandic Medicines Agency’s current stance on industrial hemp, it’s uncertain as to whether farmers will be allowed to import hemp seeds again this summer. However, the government recently announced that the Ministry of Industry and Innovation and the Ministry of Health intend to work together to make provisions for the legal cultivation of industrial hemp.

Common Drug Shortages Upset Cancer Patients

Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are in preventative drug treatment have been forced to be without drugs for days or to loan each other drugs in order to be able to continue treatment due to a shortage of anti-hormonal drugs in the country, RÚV reports. Lára Guðrún Jóhönnudóttir raised awareness of the issue on her Facebook page.

Lára Guðrún was diagnosed last year with breast cancer, at the age of 33. Women with her diagnosis usually take the generic drug Exemestan, which won’t be available in pharmacies until October 1 and hasn’t been in stock since May. They can also take the original drug Aromasin which is currently available, but for two days in September, neither drug was in stock in pharmacies. “I’m furious over the way this is being handled. We are actually loaning each other drugs through groups on Facebook. This is the reality,” Lára Guðrún writes on her Facebook page.

Buying Aromasin is more expensive for patients since Icelandic Health Insurance only participate in the cost up to the price of the generic drug, RÚV reports. Icelandic Health Insurance will refund the cost of the original drug when the generic drug isn’t available, but patients first have to pay for the drugs out of their own pocket, up to 20.000 Isk (182,43$, 156,24 €), something not everyone can afford.

Chief physician of the Icelandic Medicines Agency first found out about the lack of drugs yesterday, according to RÚV. According to him, a flaw in the system means that no institute has oversight over drug supply in the country. The Icelandic Medicines Agency has oversight over drug imports but not the supply. According to Kolbeinn, the problem can both be international and local. Sometimes, an international lack of a chemical can lead to drugs not being available but in other cases, the problem is caused by the small size of Iceland’s market. If two drugs are sold here and one becomes unavailable, more people will buy the other drug, leading to a shortage.

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has requested that the matter will be discussed in a meeting with the Icelandic Medicines Agency. In a parliamentary session, she expressed her surprise over how common this shortage of important and commonly used drugs is.