COVID-19 vaccine offered to 16 and 17-year-olds

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Following a recommendation from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the Norwegian Government has decided to offer a COVID-19 vaccine to 16 and 17-year-olds.

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The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends that young people born in 2004 and 2005 be offered a COVID-19 vaccine. The Norwegian Government has followed this recommendation, and will include these age groups in the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

‘Young people aged 16–17 have a low risk of serious illness with COVID-19, but the trend this summer, with a rising infection rate among adolescents and young adults, means that the number of young people at risk of falling seriously ill may increase. Vaccination will protect individuals, give young people a more normal everyday life, and contribute to immunity among the population. Vaccination of this age group can also help reduce the infection rate in society, and thus decrease infections among younger children’, says Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie.

In early July, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health made a preliminary recommendation to offer a vaccine to this age group, but it wanted to review the matter again at a later point, based on up-to-date knowledge regarding vaccination of adolescents. In its response to the request for an assessment from the Norwegian Government, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health writes that the new knowledge that it has received during the past 6 weeks has strengthened its recommendation to offer a vaccine to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Vaccination of 16 and 17-year-olds will follow vaccination of the adult population
Once the population over the age of 18 has been fully vaccinated, 16 and 17-year-olds will be offered a vaccine. In special cases, the municipalities may vaccinate certain young people aged 16–17 sooner, for example young people who plan to study abroad and who will have an elevated risk of becoming infected.

Due to complex logistics and in order to prevent public health nurses at schools from being tied up with vaccination work, young people will be vaccinated at municipal vaccination centres, like the rest of the population. This is consistent with the recommendation from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

BioNTech/Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine is recommended
Two vaccines have been approved for use for the age group 12–17: BioNTech/Pfizer's Comirnaty vaccine and Moderna's Spikevax vaccine. The preliminary recommendation of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health is that, as a general rule, Comirnaty should be offered to Norwegian adolescents.

The Comirnaty vaccine was approved first of the two. In the USA alone, as at 15 August, 12 million 12 to 17-year-olds have had their first dose and 9 million have had their second dose. Moderna's vaccine was approved for young people at the end of July 2021, which is why there is less experience with this vaccine. However, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health stresses that the vaccines offer the same effect and level of security.

8–12-week interval
Like the adult population, 16 and 17-year-olds will be offered two vaccine doses. An interval of 8–12 weeks between doses 1 and 2 is planned for two reasons.

  • The main reason is that knowledge is still limited about the rare but serious side effect inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), following vaccination with mRNA vaccines. Myocarditis has been primarily reported after the second dose. Before we administer the second dose of the vaccine to young people in Norway, we would like to know even more about the risks and the course of the illness for people who experience myocarditis as a side effect. We expect to learn more about this during the next few months, once many countries have vaccinated this age group. Mr Høie says that the Norwegian Medicines Agency is carefully monitoring the vaccine’s side effects.

  • The second reason is that the first dose offers good protection against serious illness and hospital admission, and that young people generally respond very well to vaccines. Recent studies have shown that a long interval can offer better protection than a short one. This has already been established for other vaccines.

If new knowledge is generated, the interval may be shortened.

Young people can make their own decision on vaccination
People come medically of age when they turn 16. Young people who have turned 16 are therefore free to decide whether they want to be vaccinated. If they are under the age of 16, consent to vaccination must be given by the person with parental responsibility (usually both parents). Considerable weight must be given to the opinion of young persons under the age of 16.