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: 7% of Icelanders 16 Years and Older Unvaccinated

Roughly 100 people have been vaccinated per day in the Greater Reykjavík area since July 1, including approximately 500 pregnant women. 7% of Icelanders 16 years and older are yet to be vaccinated.

“The occasional few who dragged their feet”

After the conclusion of the mass-vaccination campaign at the Laugardalshöll sports arena on July 1, roughly 100 people have been vaccinated per day in healthcare centres in the Greater Reykjavík area. Speaking to Mbl.is this morning, Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir – Head of Nursing at the Capital Area Healthcare Centre (Heilsugæslan) – stated: “These are primarily Icelandic students arriving from abroad, including those occasional few who had, up to this point, dragged their feet.”

The vaccination of pregnant women began on July 29, with approximately 500 women having received jabs. “I think that’s a pretty good proportion, given that there are between 2,500 and 3,000 births in Icelander a year,” Ragnheiður remarked. “Teachers and school staff have been receiving booster shots since early August, and we hope to finish as soon as possible, considering that a new school year is about to begin.”

Booster shots for Janssen recipients to begin Monday

On Monday, healthcare workers will begin administering booster shots to those 53,290 individuals who received the Janssen vaccine and who have not been infected with COVID-19. These individuals can expect to receive an invitation today and will either be offered the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

Children between the ages of 12 and 15 will be vaccinated at the Laugardalshöll sports arena on August 24 and 25. Parents who accept jabs on their behalf will be asked to accompany their children and to provide informed consent. Approximately 35,000 vaccine doses will be required to fully vaccinate the entire age group. As noted by the Ministry of Health on August 10, given the supply of Pfizer vaccines and the delivery schedule over the coming weeks, fully vaccinating the entirety of the age group in September should be possible.

According to Covid.is, 86.3% of individuals 16 years and older have now been fully vaccinated, 6.6% have received one dose, and roughly 7% have not been vaccinated.

At least 130 new infections

130 new domestic COVID-19 infections were reported yesterday, 91 of those infected were not self-isolating. Thirty-two COVID-19 patients are currently in the hospital, including eight in emergency care. A total of 1,842 individuals are self-isolating and a further 920 are isolating awaiting results of PCR tests. 1,332 are in quarantine with an active infection.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Vaccination Has Not Led to Herd Immunity, Says Chief Epidemiologist

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

While data shows vaccination is reducing the rate of serious illness due to COVID-19 in Iceland, the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason says it has not led to the herd immunity that experts hoped for. In the past two to three weeks, the Delta variant has outstripped all others in Iceland and it has become clear that vaccinated people can easily contract it as well as spread it to others, Þórólfur stated in a briefing this morning.

The current social restrictions will remain in place until August 13. The Chief Epidemiologist says the government must make the final call on next steps in response to the current wave of infection. Health authorities have sent a formal memorandum to the government expressing concern about the heavy strain on the healthcare system cause by the current record rate of infection.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

 

On the panel: Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 108 domestic cases (38 in quarantine) and 1 at the border. Total active cases are at a record 1,304. 16 are in hospital.

The briefing has begun. Víðir begins by saying that the long weekend has passed without any large violations of regulations but it will only come to light in a week or two whether the gatherings last weekend have led to infections.

Þórólfur takes over. He reviews the reason restrictions were lifted last June: at the time infection rates were very low, a majority of the nation was vaccinated and there were regulations at the border ensuring a minimum of infections would cross the border. Vaccination rates are high in most groups, though only 10% of those 12-16 have been vaccinated.

What has happened in the past two to three weeks is that the Delta variant has taken over all other variants in Iceland. And it has come to light that vaccinated individuals can contract it relatively easily and spread infection. Sequencing has shown us that the origin of most domestic infections can be traced to group events such as clubbing in downtown Reykjavík or group trips abroad. We’ll have to wait and see whether the current restrictions will suffice in curbing this current wave.

There are however indications that vaccination is preventing serious illness. Around 24 have had to be hospitalised in this wave, just over 1%. In previous waves, that figure was 4-5%. However, 2.4% of unvaccinated people that contract COVID-19 now are hospitalised.

Authorities have decided to offer those who received the Janssen vaccine a booster shot of Pfizer. There are plans to offer 12- to 15-year-olds vaccination in the near future as well. There are still some 30,000 unvaccinated people among older groups and they are more at risk. That could cause strain on the healthcare system. We must also consider that there is additional strain on other patients when there are lots of COVID cases, says Þórólfur.

Þórólfur says we must remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is not close to being over and will not be over until it’s over everywhere. We must be ready to face new challenges that come up in the process. We know what works to curb infection. We can fight COVID-19 if we stand together and reach a consensus on what needs to be done.

The panel opens for questions. “What needs to happen for you to tighten restrictions, Þórólfur? You don’t sound very positive at the moment.” Þórólfur says he has not decided on measures beyond August 13. He is in discussions with the Health Minister, and it is the government that must decide whether it is necessary to impose tighter restrictions. Þórólfur adds that at this time he will likely make recommendations in a different format than the memorandums he has previously sent to the Health Minister.

“Can you give us information about how many people were vaccinated among those who have been hospitalised in this wave?” Þórólfur says around half of those hospitalised have been vaccinated. The two that have been placed in the ICU are unvaccinated. It’s not possible to draw broad conclusions from this data but vaccination appears to reduce serious illness generally.

“What is the reason that you are considering vaccinating children at this time?” Þórólfur says that he has discussed it for some time and children in at-risk groups have already been vaccinated. There is also evidence that the Delta variant causes more serious illness among them.

“Is there a possibility that children that contract the Delta variant will need hospitalisation?” Þórólfur says that children generally have milder symptoms and none in Iceland have been hospitalised in this wave. However, there is data from abroad of children needing to be hospitalised due to COVID-19.

“Do you not want to urge the government to strengthen the healthcare system?” Þórólfur says of course, and the Director of Health has discussed that often at these briefings but it doesn’t happen overnight. What we can do in the short term is to curb infection rates, which will reduce strain on the healthcare system. Þórólfur says: We must keep in mind that people can develop long-term symptoms despite not needing hospitalisation from COVID-19 infection. That’s something that we don’t have long-term data for yet but will come to light.

Þórólfur says health officials have sent a formal memorandum to the government expressing concerns regarding strain on the healthcare system and the National University Hospital. Þórólfur expresses disappointment in the discourse regarding the National University Hospital, he feels the media has been dismissing healthcare workers’ concerns. Healthcare workers are those best positioned to evaluate the hospital’s strain and capacity, he says.

Þórólfur: our main project now is this wave that we have to tackle. Regarding the borders, we must think long-term about how we can minimise infections crossing the border. Then we must consider how we want things to be domestically and what people’s tolerance is for restrictions. But it’s a fact that the more this wave of infection spreads the harder it will be to contain.

Víðir takes over to close the briefing. We know what we have to do: prevent infections, and protect the borders so that we can live as freely as possible within Iceland. We can see that many people are out of patience toward restrictions but unfortunately, this is not over. We don’t have to agree on everything but our message must be clear. It is the virus that is the enemy. We must be good to each other and be patient, try to understand where others are coming from, Víðir says. The briefing has ended.

Additional Vaccination for Janssen Recipients, At-Risk Groups, and Possibly Children

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

Iceland’s school employees who received the Janssen vaccine are being offered a booster shot of Pfizer at Suðurlandsbraut 34 in Reykjavík starting today. All Reykjavík area residents that received the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine against COVID-19 will receive a booster shot of Pfizer before August 20, Director of Capital Area Health Centres Óskar Reykdalsson stated this morning.

Óskar says there has been additional strain on healthcare workers recently, as vaccination efforts ramp up after a summer pause and COVID-19 testing increases in response to the growing rate of infection. Some staff has been called in from summer vacations to lighten the workload. Óskar says that staff are taking it well. “[They] are motivated to save and stop this pandemic.” Members of at-risk groups as well as the elderly who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 will also be offered a booster shot.

The Icelandic Medicines Agency has approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds, and local health authorities are now reviewing whether to recommend vaccination for the demographic before the school year begins at the end of this month. “They are of school age and parents must consent. Though vaccination may happen in schools parental consent must be given,” Deputy Chief Epidemiologist Kamilla S. Jósefsdóttir stated. “We are going to discuss with health centres how best to organise the administration, information campaign, and other things.”

Increased Demand for Vaccinations but No Plans to Recall Vaccination Staff from Summer Holidays

Demand for vaccinations at Heilsugæslan health clinics in the capital area has increased considerably in recent days, RÚV reports, unsurprisingly prompted by the recent spate of positive COVID-19 infections.

Two hundred people received vaccination shots at the health clinic on Suðurlandsbraut on Wednesday. “We didn’t anticipate this with all the COVID testing we’re doing, too, so we’ll have to limit ourselves to 100 a day,” said Sigríður Dóra Magnúsdóttir, Medical Director of capital-area Heilsugæslan clinics.

Around 50,000 Icelanders have received the one-shot Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine and pandemic authorities will probably call for second shots of one of the other available vaccines, most likely Pfizer, to be administered to these individuals in order to bolster their resistance to COVID-19. Sigríður Dóra says that people who received the Janssen shot will probably not be given a booster until mid-August, but health clinics will wait for further guidance from chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason before making any final decisions.

Vaccination staff went on summer vacation on July 7 and are not scheduled to return until mid-August. Sigríður Dóra says that despite the current increase in infections, she doesn’t believe that there is cause to call these employees back from their holidays. It will take around three days to vaccinate the 30,000 capital-area residents, young people, teachers, fishermen, and ship and flight crew personnel who received the Janssen shot.

Last Chance for Jab Before Summer Vacation

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

Reykjavík capital area residents that have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 have one more chance to get the jab this Wednesday, or they will have to wait until vaccination staff returns from vacation in mid-August, mbl.is reports. Residents who want to get vaccinated can drop in to the Laugardalshöll mass vaccination centre between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM this Wednesday, July 7, where they will receive a shot of the single-dose Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine.

Already 1,200 have registered to receive the jab on Wednesday but Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, head of nursing at capital area healthcare centres, says there are plenty of doses of Janssen to go around. She encourages all those who are 18 and over to drop in, with the exception of those who are pregnant. Next week vaccination staff will be administering second doses of Moderna and Pfizer on Tuesday, after which staff will go on summer vacation. Vaccination will resume in mid-August.

As of today, 70.84% of Iceland’s population has received one or both doses of COVID-19 vaccine while 60.48% is fully vaccinated. Iceland currently has 28 active cases of COVID-19.

Three More Weeks of Vaccination Until Staff Vacation

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

Icelandic authorities have published the full schedule for COVID-19 vaccination in the Reykjavík capital area until July 13, 2021, when the vaccination team will go on summer vacation. Those who have not yet received the jab can now register to receive the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine using the online chat service on heilsuvera.is. Vaccination dates for this group will be scheduled based on how many requests are received.

As of the time of writing, 52.6% of Icelandic residents 16 and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 while an additional 28.8% have received one dose and 2.2% have recovered from COVID-19 infection or have antibodies. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist has stated that the country has already achieved herd immunity, though group outbreaks can still occur among unvaccinated people and it remains important to keep up personal protective measures such as distancing and handwashing.

Around 12,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine will be administered at Laugardalshöll mass vaccination centre today to the final age groups (16 and over) that have yet to receive their first dose. From June 28 to July 13, only second doses will be administered according to the following schedule.

Week 26

  • Monday, June 28 – Moderna
  • Tuesday, June 29 – Pfizer
  • Wednesday, June 30 – AstraZeneca
  • Thursday, July 1 – AstraZeneca

Week 27

  • Tuesday, July 6 – Pfizer
  • Wednesday, July 7 – AstraZeneca (if required; this date is not confirmed)

Week 28

  • Tuesday, July 13 (morning) – Pfizer
  • Tuesday, July 13 (afternoon) – Moderna

Vaccinations will restart again in mid-August after vaccination staff has had their summer vacation. Until now, residents in Iceland have been called in for vaccination and have been unable to book appointments themselves. A notice from capital area healthcare centres says a different procedure will be used when vaccination resumes in mid-August.

COVID-Recovered Offered Vaccination in Iceland

Icelandic healthcare system

Icelandic authorities will now offer vaccination to residents who have recovered from COVID-19 infection, Vísir reports. While the country’s vaccination program was originally only open to those who had not been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, new research shows vaccines offer more protection than antibodies formed in response to COVID infection. Iceland will have administered one or both doses of vaccine to all residents 16 years of age and over by the end of this week.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason recommends vaccination to those who have recovered from COVID-19. “Now we’re getting findings from studies that show that it’s a good idea to vaccinate those who have contracted COVID as their immune response is narrower and less significant than after two inoculations. We will invite them for vaccination on that basis.”

AstraZeneca Second Doses Delayed

Over 64% of Iceland’s population has received at least one dose of vaccine against COVID-19 while over 41% are fully vaccinated. All adults in the country that have not yet been vaccinated have received an invitation to the jab this week. Some 20,000 residents of the Reykjavík capital area who received one dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will have to wait until next week at least to receive the other one due to a delay in shipments from the manufacturer.

Around 10,000 doses of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine will be administered at Laugardalshöll mass vaccination centre in Reykjavík tomorrow and the same number of Pfizer doses will be given on Wednesday. After 2.00pm tomorrow, those who have received an invitation for the Janssen vaccine but did not attend their appointment can drop by the centre for a vaccine. The same applies to those who received, but did not attend, an appointment for Pfizer: they can drop in after 3.00pm on Wednesday to get the shot, while supplies last.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Randomised Vaccination Likely Begins This Week

Icelandic healthcare system

Icelandic health authorities expect to administer 14,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the Reykjavík capital area this week, aiming to complete vaccination of remaining priority groups and all residents born before 1975, RÚV reports. If there are leftover doses on scheduled vaccination days, authorities will begin to call in the general population using a randomised selection system. Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, director of nursing at capital area healthcare centres, stated that randomised vaccination among the remaining age groups would begin across the country in the coming days.

Pfizer, Moderna, and Janssen COVID-19 vaccines will be administered in the capital area on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week respectively. While Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be administered to remaining priority group members such as those with underlying illnesses, the Janssen vaccine will be administered to school staff. A notice from capital area healthcare centres states that authorities will aim to complete vaccination of all those born 1975 or earlier this week if supplies allow. Individuals will be invited for vaccination via SMS. “There are no open vaccination days on the schedule in the near future,” the notice stated.

Vaccination Lottery for Remaining Population

Health authorities are now completing vaccination of priority groups, including the elderly and frontline workers. An Icelandic study presented in early May found that randomised COVID-19 vaccination in the remaining population would be a faster route to herd immunity than vaccination by descending age groups. In an interview last Friday, Ragnheiður stated that the names would literally be pulled out of a hat after being grouped by birth year and sex.  “We’re going to put all these individuals together on the basis of birth year, and then we’re going to pull them out of a hat, or a mug, with either women or men from the given year of birth being selected,” she stated.

Another 20,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine are expected to be administered in Iceland next week. Over 46% of Iceland’s population has received one or both doses of vaccine while just under 25% has been fully vaccinated. Health authorities have stated that they are on track to vaccinate 75% of the population (280,000 people) with at least one dose by the end of June.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Weekend Partygoers Reminded to Show Caution

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Make sure you register your attendance at restaurants and download the updated contact tracing app Rakning C-19: these were the two directions that Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson had for the Icelandic public at today’s COVID-19 briefing in Reykjavík. Víðir stated that he understood people’s desire to let loose particularly in light of lifted restrictions this week, but a group infection in Reykjavík proves the virus is still out there and caution remains necessary.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

 

On the panel: Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Yesterday’s COVID-19 numbers are in on covid.is.
New domestic cases: 3
New border cases: 3
Total active cases: 39
Hospitalised: 0
Vaccinated w/ at least one dose: 169,570 (45.8% of population)
Fully vaccinated: 80,464 (21.8% of population)

The briefing has begun. Víðir begins by discussing the cases being diagnosed out of quarantine within Iceland. He underlines the importance of maintaining personal preventative measures despite regulations being loosened this week. He encourages people to take care when registering their presence at restaurants and bars as it helps with contact tracing if it becomes necessary. He also encourages the public to update to the latest version of the official contact tracing app.

Þórólfur takes over to discuss the numbers. There were three infections diagnosed yesterday, two in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. For the past week, nine people have tested positive, four out of quarantine. They are connected to the group infection at the downtown location of H&M. Around 100 people are in quarantine and Þórólfur expects more infections to arise from that group. The infections are of the UK variant of the virus. Border cases have fluctuated over the past week but there is not much increase. One person is currently hospitalised due to COVID-19, none in the ICU. In the past week, one person died after a month in hospital due to COVID-19. That brings the total number of Iceland’s COVID-19 fatalities to 30.

A recent wave of infection in the Faroe Islands has led Icelandic authorities to remove the Faroe Islands from the list of low-risk regions. Restrictions were relaxed considerably in the past week and Þórólfur has noticed some unrest and worry among the public. Þórólfur says that authorities believe that if people continue to mind their personal infection prevention, we should be fine and should be able to tackle the group infections that will occur. Vaccinations are going well though fewer were vaccinated this week due to smaller shipments. They should increase again next week, says Þórólfur.

Þórólfur mentions the AstraZeneca vaccine, stating that while it is safe to get one dose each from two different vaccines, cases of serious side effects are rarer after the second shot of one vaccine. People are generally encouraged to get the same vaccine for their second shot. The vaccines we are using now protect against the Indian variant, which appears to be more infectious than previous variants of the virus. (The Indian variant has been diagnosed at the border but has not spread domestically in Iceland.)

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur is asked about herd immunity and replies that percentages of vaccinated individuals to reach herd immunity varies for each virus but we won’t have contained the virus until global vaccinations have reached a certain point. As for other contagious diseases, such as measles, Iceland has had luck with keeping them at bay with general vaccinations and Þórólfur doesn’t think that COVID-19 will be any different.

The government has announced that mandatory stays in government-run quarantine facilities for those arriving from high-risk areas will end next month. People will still have to prove that they have adequate access to housing that fulfills quarantine requirements. Víðir notes that while mandatory stays in quarantine facilities will end, the facilities will remain open for people who don’t have access to adequate quarantine facilities at home or where they are staying in Iceland. He mentions migrant workers specifically. If people break quarantine, they will also be required to quarantine in the government’s quarantine facilities.

Þórólfur is asked about Janssen and the AstraZeneca vaccine and states that few countries have stopped using these vaccines altogether but most are using them with restrictions. That is also what the Icelandic healthcare system is doing, in order to take the utmost care. Þórólfur is asked about young women who received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine before authorities stopped using it for their demographic. Þórólfur replies that people need to make their own decision, they can get a second dose of AZ or another vaccine.

When asked about vaccination certificates for those who have received doses of two different vaccines, Víðir answers that at first, such certificates weren’t being issued due to a glitch but it has now been fixed. Everyone should now be able to get a certificate. Þórólfur adds that such certificates will be accepted among travellers arriving in Iceland and he can see no reason why other countries should reject such certificates, as many nations are using two different vaccines to vaccinate people.

Asked about vaccine side effect research in Norway, Þórólfur states that they are monitoring all such research and will proceed based on the results of investigations. Any time a large mass of people receives vaccines, it is likely that some of them will develop symptoms that could be unrelated to the vaccines. Statistically speaking, there have been no spikes in health issues overall.

Víðir states that there’s no suspicion that the current group infection can be traced to quarantine violations.

Víðir closes the briefing by warning partygoers and people who are planning to enjoy themselves this weekend to be careful, remember to register at bars and restaurants, and have the latest version of the contact tracing app. The briefing has ended.