Mumps Diagnosed in Reykjavík Area

doctor nurse hospital health

A case of mumps was diagnosed in Iceland’s capital area in early February. Now, a second person connected to the first case has also been diagnosed with the illness. Mumps is a viral respiratory infection that has been quite rare in Iceland since 1989, though a few outbreaks have occurred since then.

Those who were exposed to the positive mumps cases have been informed by health authorities, according to a notice from the Directorate of Health. Those who were exposed and are unvaccinated were advised to stay away from others to reduce the risk of infection. The gestation period for mumps is about three weeks, so it is possible that other cases will emerge in Iceland.

Vaccination is the most effective protection against mumps and has been routine in Iceland since 1989. Since 2000, a few outbreaks have occurred, mainly in people born between 1985-1987. Older cohorts are generally considered immune due to frequent outbreaks prior to 1984.

Rates of measles rising in Europe

A case of measles was diagnosed in Iceland recently as well, in an adult traveller who had recently arrived from abroad. Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund stated that measles infections are on the rise in Europe, which increases the likelihood of an outbreak in Iceland.

First Measles Case in Iceland in Five Years

Landspítali national hospital

An adult traveller visiting Iceland was diagnosed with measles on February 2, Iceland’s first case of the highly infection illness in five years. The man is in isolation at the National Hospital and all those at risk of exposure to the illness have been contacted by authorities.

A serious illness

Measles are a highly infectious, serious illness, characterised by red flecks that spread across the skin. The death rate of measles infection is 1-3 per 1,000 cases. Once infected, it usually takes 10-12 days for symptoms to appear.

While those who have been vaccinated against measles are very unlikely to get infected, participation in measles vaccination in Iceland has been falling in recent years. According to the newest review by the Directorate of Health, participation has dropped from around 93-95% down to around 90%, which is too low to maintain herd immunity.

“We would really like to see higher [participation] in order to better prevent the spread of infection through society, but participation needs to be quite good to ensure that,” Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund told RÚV. She added that measles infections are on the rise in Europe, which increases the likelihood of an outbreak in Iceland.

Eradicated in the 90s in Iceland

Measles were eradicated in Iceland in the 1990s, and were not diagnosed again until 2014. Since that date, all measles cases diagnosed in Iceland have originated abroad. “It’s not circulating here in Iceland and we want to prevent it from spreading and leading to group outbreaks or more cases here,” Guðrún stated.

Children in Iceland typically receive two measles vaccinations, which Guðrún says provide protection for life.

Less Participation in Childhood Vaccinations in Iceland

Participation in childhood vaccinations in Iceland has not recovered since the downturn that occurred during the pandemic, RÚV reports. There is still a shortage of vaccines due to production problems.

Children’s participation in general vaccinations in 2022 was lower than in previous years, according to a new report from the Chief Epidemiologist. Increased strain on healthcare centres and a shortage of vaccines have impacted the situation and the healthcare system has not been able to make up for the vaccinations missed during the pandemic. The number of unvaccinated foreign citizens may be skewing the data and is being looked at more closely.

The Icelandic Medicines Agency (Lyfjastofnun) reports that the Boostrix Polio vaccine, which has been unavailable in Iceland for some time, has arrived in the country and goes on sale on September 13. Shortages of other routine vaccines for children have also been reported. While pharmaceutical wholesalers are responsible for stockpiling medicines in Iceland, various factors can cause temporary shortages of vaccines and other medicines.

Systematic vaccination has largely eliminated many diseases that regularly lead to death within the population. Continued vaccination is crucial for herd immunity to develop and diseases to be kept under control. Statistics from other countries show that when routine vaccination is relaxed, outbreaks of diseases such as measles, diphtheria, and polio have occurred.

Rise in COVID-19 Cases in Iceland

Confirmed COVID-19 infections have been increasing in Iceland over the past four weeks, Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund told RÚV. “We’re talking about going from around 10 cases per week to around 30,” she stated. Guðrún says seniors and those with underlying health issues will be offered COVID-19 booster shots this fall.

The numbers Guðrún cites are numbers of COVID-19 cases confirmed via PCR tests in hospitals and they do not give a complete picture of the spread of COVID-19 in the general population. “There are lots of people who don’t have to seek out healthcare services, who are home, test at home, or are just sick at home. Hospitals test those who go in and those inpatients who have symptoms. That’s where we’re getting these notifications from,” Guðrún explained.

At-risk groups offered boosters this fall

While COVID-19 vaccinations are available at health clinics in Iceland, there has been no ongoing vaccination campaign. Those in at-risk groups will be offered booster shots this fall. “There will be clearer guidelines on that in September, it would be at the same time as the flu shot. There we’re targeting, as was stated in the guidelines that were released last spring, the 60+ demographic, and then at-risk groups and also healthcare staff who are more exposed.”

Fourth Vaccination To Be Offered In Laugardalshöll

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

The latest vaccination campaign will begin in Laugardalshöll today, September 27, offering the fourth COVID-19 booster shot and influenza vaccines to individuals 60 and over.

Health care professionals state that some 30,000 in the capital are eligible for this newest round, and expect up to 4,000 per day. Similar services are also being provided outside of the capital region.

The current round of vaccinations will run until October 7, every weekday between 11am and 3pm.

Read more: 80+ Offered Fourth Dose

In April of this year, individuals 80 and over were offered their fourth shot. With much of this demographic covered, it is hoped to increase protection for other vulnerable segments of the population.

Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, director of nursing in the Capital Region Healthcare System, stated to Vísir that this round of vaccinations will have a slightly different format than before, with both the booster vaccine and also influenza vaccine offered.

“People can come here and kill two birds with one stone, get both or one of them depending on what suits them,” she said. “We are going to have three booths, one will only be influenza and one will only be COVID-19, and then there will be one booth that will be both.”

According to the latest statistics from covid.is, 78% of the population is considered fully vaccinated, and 27,644 individuals have received their fourth dose of the vaccine.

Nine Infected with Monkeypox, Vaccine En Route from Denmark

Nine people had been diagnosed with monkeypox in Iceland as of last week. RÚV reports that Iceland has still not received its own shipment of the monkeypox vaccine and so will be borrowing vaccines from Denmark in the meantime.

In an interview on Wednesday, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason said there was no indication that the monkeypox epidemic is on the decline. Around 14,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease worldwide, 8,000 of whom are in the European Union and 2,000 of whom are in the UK.

“The figures are going up. There’s nothing that indicates that this on the decline. So every country is just preparing to offer vaccination and even antivirals when they get them,” said Þórólfur.

Þórólfur added that Iceland is receiving a loan of 40 vaccine doses from Denmark, as the country  is still awaiting its vaccine allotment from the European Union.

“It’s not clear when they will arrive,” said Þórólfur, “but it shouldn’t be long now.”

Iceland Likely to Procure Monkeypox Vaccine, Deems General Inoculation Unnecessary

Iceland will likely participate in the European Union’s joint scheme to purchase and procure doses of Imvanex to use in cases of monkeypox infection, RÚV reports. At time of writing, no cases of monkeypox have been diagnosed in Iceland. After exploring its procurement options, the Ministry of Health says it monkeypox vaccinations would be administered to people who have been exposed to the virus and perhaps other select groups, but says that general vaccination against the virus is unnecessary.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, “there is a multi-country outbreak of monkeypox affecting the UK, EU/EEA states, and North America. This is the first time that chains of transmission are reported in Europe without known epidemiological links to West or Central Africa.” As perhaps obvious from the name, monkeypox was first found in monkeys and is spread through close contact, although it is not typically spread easily amongst humans.

The current outbreak (roughly 200 cases globally) extends to 20 countries in which monkeypox is not endemic, and is causing concern because the virus rarely spreads outside of West and Central Africa. Its symptoms include fever, headache, chills, exhaustion, asthenia, lymph node swelling, back pain and muscle aches.

Luckily, existing smallpox vaccinations are effective against monkeypox. Danish biotech company Bavarian Nordic is one of the few in the world to have approval for its smallpox vaccine, known as Imvanex in Europe and Jynneos in the United States. Iceland would receive a proportional allocation of the vaccine that the EU purchases for countries participating in the scheme, just like it did with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Increase in COVID Admissions, But Infections Much Milder

Iceland National Hospital COVID-19

As many as 150 new cases of COVID-19 are being diagnosed every day in Iceland and the number of patients admitted to the hospital for COVID infection is also rising incrementally, RÚV reports. While there are a considerable number infections all throughout Iceland, however, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason says that fortunately, these cases are much, much milder amongst those who are vaccinated.

Fortunate as well, says Þórólfur, is that the stress on Iceland’s health system is not nearly what it was at the height of the pandemic, when there were 88 patients in the COVID ward at once. There were only two people in Landspítali’s COVID ward at the start of May, which increased to nine patients on Thursday, and 16 on Friday. Admissions are mostly elderly patients and those with underlying conditions, but as the infections are not as acute, none of those currently in the hospital are on ventilators.

“There’s no doubt about it, of course we would have liked for the vaccine to prevent infection,” Þórólfur remarked. “It doesn’t do that, but what it does do, first and foremost, is prevent serious illness. If we didn’t have this widespread vaccination, particularly amongst older age groups, I think we’d have much worse infections and more people in the hospital.”

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.”

COVID-19 Vaccination Moved to Primary Healthcare Centres

The mass vaccination centre in Reykjavík’s Laugardalshöll stadium is officially no longer in operation. As of today, COVID-19 vaccination will be offered at primary healthcare centres. First and second doses for those five years of age and older as well as booster shots for those 16 years of age and up will be offered by appointment. As previously, COVID-19 vaccination in Iceland will be entirely free of charge.

Each primary healthcare centre will administer vaccinations on specific days, according to a notice from Capital Area Primary Healthcare Centres. At the moment, only Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines will be offered. In order to be eligible for a booster shot, more than four months must have passed from an individual’s second dose of vaccination. For those who have contracted COVID-19, Icelandic health authorities recommend waiting at least three months before receiving a booster shot, and up to six months in some cases.

Those who wish to receive COVID-19 vaccination at a primary healthcare centre must book an appointment through heilsuvera.is (using electronic ID). Parents and guardians can book appointments for children 15 years of age and younger. Those who do not have an electronic ID can call their local healthcare clinic to book an appointment.

Over 78% of Iceland’s total population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and over 54% have received a booster shot.

More information about COVID-19 vaccination at primary healthcare centres is available at heilsuvera.is or by phone at +354 513 1700.