Wave of Respiratory Illness in Iceland

COVID-19 vaccine vaccination Iceland

Many people in Iceland are sick with respiratory illnesses and the situation is expected to continue. The peak of infections has not been reached, according to Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund, as fewer people than expected received vaccinations for Covid and influenza this fall. “It’s been Covid, influenza, RSV, and other respiratory infections and viruses,” she told Vísir.

New Covid variant spreads

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified JN.1, an Omicron variant, as a Covid “variant of interest” due to its rapid spread. “Covid is highly infectious and it’s causing illnesses and many people get very sick,” Guðrún said. The symptoms of JN.1 are similar to previous variants, Guðrún added, but there has been no uptick in hospital admissions as a result of this wave.

However, many people have been admitted for other illnesses. “We always have some people admitted with Covid,” Guðrún said. “There’s also been an uptick in admissions where people have influenza or RSV. Especially young children.”

Campaign to get people vaccinated

Guðrún urges people to get vaccinated for influenza and Covid. Health care providers still offer this service and it is strongly recommended for people over 60 years of age. “The participation has unfortunately not been very good this fall, but there was an increase last week when the health care centres campaigned to urge people to come,” Guðrún said.

She added that even though people may have become tired of the discussion about Covid vaccinations, it remains important to get shots. “These are well-researched vaccines that billions of people have used,” Guðrún said. “They’ve been shown to be effective and protect against serious illnesses and deaths.”

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.

Children’s Vaccinations Moved From Schools To Laugardalshöll Indoor Arena

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

Vaccinations for children aged 5-11 in the capital area will begin in the Laugardalshöll indoor arena on Monday, but not in schools like previously scheduled, mbl.is reports. Staffing shortage due to quarantines and isolations made the original plan harder to follow than previously expected.

According to Director of Nursing with the Capital Area Healthcare Clinics Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, the current wave of omicron infections affects medical staff like any others, and they realised they were too short-staffed for the original program. “Plan A was to administer the vaccine in schools if everything went according to plan. Plan B was to move to Laugardalshöll if we were getting short-staffed, and that is the one we’re currently following.” Administering the vaccine in Laugardalshöll means that it can be done with less staff, as they would all be in one place instead of spreading out over the city’s schools. Mass vaccinations for adults were administered in Laugardalshöll.

Following a risk assessment, they found that the most significant risk factor was staffing. “80-100 people are out every day these days, and the number is only getting bigger. That’s the risk we’re responding to,” Ragnheiður told mbl.is.

The plan is to start the vaccine program at noon and end the day by six pm. That way, the children could attend school in the morning but have the afternoon off.

According to Ragnheiður, the Laugardalshöll space will have to be adjusted to the children coming in for vaccinations. The older children will be grouped in the hall, while private spaces will be prepared for the younger ones to give them the time and space they need during the process.

Children’s Ombudsman Salvör Nordal had previously announced her concerns over vaccinating children in schools. She told mbl. is that while she considered the Laugardalshöll indoor arena a better choice, she still thinks the healthcare clinics are the most appropriate location. “We consider the healthcare clinic the best choice for vaccinations for this age group, but Laugardalshöll might have some advantages over the schools. If they use the space wisely, make it warm and child-friendly and call children from the same school at different times, they could make sure that friend groups don’t arrive together and that school staff isn’t aware of children’s vaccination status,” Salvör told mbl.is.

She also reiterated the importance of parents talking to their children and explaining what’s going on. The office of the Children’s Ombudsman has cooperated with the Chief Epidemiologist’s office to create reading material for children in easily understandable words that they can read themselves. “They must be conscious of what’s going on, and we know it, see it, and hear it, that children have wondered about this covid thing all along. It affects them in so many ways,” Salvör stated.

Vaccinations for Children Aged 5-11 To Begin Early Next Year

vaccination Laugardalshöll

The Chief Epidemiologist has decided to offer children aged 5-11 vaccinations against COVID-19, stating that this decision is comparable to what is being done in surrounding countries such as Denmark, Ireland, Austria, the US, Canada and Israel. The vaccinations will likely take place in schools, not mass vaccination centres such as the Laugardalshöll arena.

IN a notice to the public, the Chief Epidemiologist gives the following reasons to vaccinate this age group and cites the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. COVID-19 can cause serious illness in children in this age group, with 0.6% of infected children requiring hospitalisation and a 0.006% fatality rate. Vaccinations’ effectiveness in preventing infection in this age group is around 90%. Vaccinating children diminishes the likelihood of long Covid, as well as minimising interruption of children’s studies and social life, and their parents’ work. Finally, the Chief Epidemiologist states that widespread vaccinations of children diminish the likelihood of them carrying infections to their families and at-risk individuals.

Children’s vaccinations will begin in the new year and further information will be released later. Children in this age group will be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. Vaccinations will likely take place in schools but all preparations will be done in cooperation with healthcare clinics, school authorities, the Children’s Ombudsman and the Data Protection Authority.

Iceland’s Booster Shot Campaign Well Attended

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

Iceland’s third week of a nationwide booster shot administration campaign has gotten off to a flying start, Vísir reports. Over 7,000 people turned up to Laugardalshöll in Reykjavík yesterday to receive their booster. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason was one of them.

Booster shots were administered in Reykjavík between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM yesterday. Director of Nursing for Capital Area Healthcare Centres Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir called it a successful day. “It went wonderfully today. Around 7,150 people came today, which is pretty good, it’s the second time we’re topping the 7,000 person record, we most likely topped it on one of the days in week one, so there has been very good attendance,” Ragnheiður stated.

Þórólfur Guðnason, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist, turned up to receive his booster yesterday. Þórólfur was fully vaccinated with AstraZeneca, and joked about being a “traitor” when he received his Moderna booster.

Icelandic residents who are fully vaccinated have begun receiving SMS messages inviting them for booster shots. Attendance has been around 70%. The Capital Area Healthcare Service has also been holding an open house on Thursdays and Fridays for those who have yet to receive their first or second shot of COVID-19 vaccine.

Over 90% of Iceland’s eligible population (12 years of age and older) is fully vaccinated. Nearly 100,000 (97,785) have received a booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine in Iceland, while 39,206 have received a second shot following vaccination with the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) single-dose vaccine.

Þórólfur has stated that the booster shot campaign could help Iceland reach herd immunity. Of the 30,000 people who have received a booster shot in Iceland in early November, only 10 had contracted COVID, around 0.03%. Of the 270,000-280,000 that are fully vaccinated, 4,500 people had contracted COVID, around 1.6%.

COVID-19 In Iceland: Icelandic Medicines Agency To Approve Pfizer Vaccine For Ages 5-11

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

The Icelandic Medicines Agency is set to approve the use of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 for children aged 5-11 today, Director of the Icelandic Medicines Agency Rún Hauksdóttir Hvannberg told RÚV. The use of the vaccine for this age group was approved this morning by the European Medicines Agency.

EMA’s human medicines committee (CHMP) has recommended granting an extension of indication for the COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty to include use in children aged 5 to 11. The vaccine, developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, is already approved for use in adults and children aged 12 and above.

The dosage of Comirnaty for this age group is smaller than the one approved for older people, 10 µg instead of 30 µg. As in the older age group, it is given as two injections in the muscles of the upper arm, three weeks apart.

Rúna added that healthcare authorities in Iceland will now decide if and when to offer vaccinations for this age group.

Children to Receive First Jabs Today and Tomorrow

Vaccine

The vaccination of children between the ages of 12 and 15 began at the Laugardalshöll stadium in Reykjavík this morning. The authorities expect to immunize approximately 10,000 children over the next two days, Vísir reports.

“Everyone in agreement”

Children between the ages of 12 and 15 and who live in the Greater Reykjavík Area will receive jabs against COVID-19 at the Laugardalshöll stadium today and tomorrow. Rather than sending out invitations, the Capital Area Healthcare Centres (HH) have asked legal guardians to accompany their children to Laugardalshöll according to a designated schedule. On the HH website, parents are encouraged to discuss vaccinations with their children so that “everyone is in agreement” before arriving at the stadium. The children will receive the Pfizer vaccine.

Children from the abovementioned age group and who have already been infected with COVID-19 can receive one dose of the vaccine, that is if more than three months have passed since the infection. 7th graders, who turn 12 this fall, will be offered vaccines later this autumn.

Common side effects

As noted on the HH website, the most common side effects of the vaccine are pain on the injection site, tiredness, fever, headache, and muscle pain.

“As with other vaccines, the most common side effects are discomfort at the injection site and weakness/fatigue, fever and aches (headache or muscle aches and joint pain) for the first 24 hours after vaccination, sometimes for several days. Paracetamol or ibuprofen may be used in doses according to package leaflet for these side effects. There are also rare side effects with swelling in the pericardium (bag around the heart) or in the heart muscle itself, 2 to 3 weeks after vaccination, usually after the second dose and is more common in boys than girls. Although these side effects can be uncomfortable and even frightening, the condition usually disappears with rest and anti-inflammatory painkillers. If a child develops chest pain, talks about a strange heartbeat or seems short of breath when resting after the vaccination, a doctor should be consulted,” the website of the Capital Area Healthcare Centre reads.

Irregularities in the menstrual cycle

The HH website also addresses the possible connection between COVID-19 vaccinations and period changes:

“It is being investigated whether changes in the menstrual cycle, both spotting, small and heavy bleeding, are related to vaccination with this vaccine. Some girls between the ages of 12 and 15 have already started menstruation, while others have not. Not all girls at this age may be aware of any changes, as menstruation is usually irregular in the first year after it starts. Many also find it uncomfortable to talk about and won’t necessarily tell if something is different than (SIC) before. It is therefore important that they receive information that it is appropriate to discuss this and have the opportunity to do so, if not at home than (SIC) possibly with a school nurse or other healthcare professionals.”

“Hope We’ll Never Have to Tighten Restrictions Again”

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has submitted two memoranda on COVID-19 to the Minister of Health, mbl.is reports. Þórólfur hopes that the authorities will not need to impose stricter social restrictions within Iceland’s borders again.

Border regulations to be changed on July 1

Just over 15 months since the first social restrictions were imposed in Iceland, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason is hopeful that the authorities will never again need to resort to such strict measures within Iceland. Þórólfur has submitted two memoranda on COVID-19 – concerning measures within Iceland and at the border respectively – to the Minister of Health but was unwilling to share the contents of the memoranda with reporters until the documents had been formally discussed by the government.

In an interview with mbl.is this morning, Þórólfur struck an optimistic note:

“I hope that we’ve reached the point where we no longer need to tighten measures within the borders. We can expect the occasional infection, which shouldn’t surprise us, for the reason that there are individuals who haven’t been vaccinated, even though we’ve managed to vaccinate the lion’s share of the country and most of those whom we intend to inoculate. Vaccines aren’t 100% effective, but even though they won’t stave off infections in everyone, they are extremely effective in preventing serious illness.”

As reported by Iceland Review this morning, traffic at Keflavík Airport is at an all-time high since the pandemic began, with delays expected among arriving passengers queueing for testing. Procedures at the borders will be altered on July 1, so that arriving passengers who submit a valid vaccination certificate will no longer need to be screened.

No new infections for over a week

There have been no infections within the borders since June 14, RÚV reports, and almost 90% of individuals over the age of 16 have received at least their first dose of the vaccine. 60% of the country is now considered fully vaccinated.

The ongoing vaccination campaign is continuing at pace. This morning, the Ministry of Health announced that the prioritisation of vaccines has been abolished: vaccinations against COVID-19 will now follow the same regulations as vaccines for other infectious diseases. Individuals can now register for vaccines at heilsuvera.is, with three vaccines being offered: Moderna, Pfizer, and Janssen.

Fewer Statistical Updates, Press Conferences Discontinued

Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller

In light of falling COVID cases and a successful vaccination campaign, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has announced that it will not be providing statistical updates on covid.is with the same frequency as before. Likewise, periodic press conferences will be discontinued.

End of an era, the “troika” bids farewell

Since March of last year, the so-called “troika(þríeykið in Icelandic) consisting of Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Surgeon General Alma Möller, and former Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson – has held regular press conferences concerning the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iceland. The press conferences quickly became ingrained in the national consciousness during the early days of the pandemic, with many waiting with bated breath, especially during the crests of the various waves, for the newest statistical information.

Given the decline of COVID cases and successful vaccination efforts, the authorities have decided to discontinue periodic press conferences and will henceforth be providing fewer statistical updates; for the past two weeks, infections among non-quarantining individuals have been rare and there have been several days without any new infections“46.9% of Icelandic residents (16 years and older) have been vaccinated and more will be inoculated this week. Today, we transitioned to a “grey” on our colour code,” a communique from the Department reads.

Twice a week in June, once a week in July

The web page covid.is – which has been updated daily at 11 am – will only be updated twice a week from now on, with no tentative statistics being relayed to the media. “As it stands, we don’t think it’s necessary,” Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, communications manager with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, stated in an interview with RÚV.We will be sending press releases if any non-quarantining individuals become infected with COVID, for such information is relevant to the citizenry.”

So long as the state of the pandemic remains unchanged, the statistics section of covid.is will only be updated twice a week in June (on Mondays and Wednesdays) and once a week in July (on Mondays). Hjördís stresses that despite information not being delivered as rapidly as before, it does not mean that the COVID pandemic is over. “We will continue to stay on our toes and keep a close watch on infections.”

Statistics concerning vaccines will be updated with the same frequency as before.

Hope to Vaccinate Everyone by June 25

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

In an interview with Morgunblaðið today, Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir confirmed that the government hopes to have offered everyone their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by June 25. Those who had previously declined will be invited again in August.

Nearly 130,000 fully vaccinated

Following a busy week of vaccinations, Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated that the authorities hope to have offered everyone the first dose of the vaccine by June 25.

“Hopefully, everyone will be happy,” she stated in an interview with Mbl.is. Svandís added that vaccinations have gone well so far but that the authorities have yet to inoculate much of the youngest section of the population.

A total of 128,645 individuals have been fully vaccinated in Iceland and a further 86,326 have received their first doses. Those individuals who have previously declined vaccinations, or have been unable to attend, will be offered additional doses in August.

Causal relation “unlikely”

On May 18, after five deaths and five serious side effects were reported to the Icelandic Medicines Agency, two independent specialists in internal medicine were hired to examine the causal relationship between these cases and the administering of vaccines. Their investigation involved all of the vaccines that have been used in Iceland: Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Janssen.

The Icelandic Medicines Agency published the specialists’ findings today, noting the following:

  1. The specialists found it “unlikely” that four of the five deaths under review could be traced to vaccinations. The association between one of the deaths and vaccines is described as “unlikely to possible.”
  2. The specialists found it “unlikely to possible” that three of the five reported instances of serious side effects could be traced to vaccinations. A “possible” connection exists between vaccination and illness in one case. A “likely” connection exists between vaccination and illness, according to the investigators.
  3. In almost all of the cases they reviewed, the specialists concluded that there was a clear association between death and illness and underlying risk factors.

24,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine

At a press conference this morning, Lena Hallengren, Sweden’s Minister of Health and Social Affairs, stated that Iceland had received 24,000 doses of Janssen on loan from Sweden. According to RÚV, most of the doses have arrived in Iceland, with 10,000 doses already having been administered.

Iceland has borrowed a total of 40,000 vaccine doses from Norway and Sweden, with Norway having lent Iceland 16,000 AstraZeneca doses.