The Prime Minister’s Opening Remarks at the press conference on 12 May

The Prime Minister’s Opening Remarks at the press conference on 12 May on the vaccine strategy.

Translated remarks:

Dear everyone,

So far, more than 1.5 million Norwegians have received at least one vaccine dose. Approximately half a million of these people are fully vaccinated.

If vaccination continues according to plan, everyone over the age of 18 will have been offered their first dose by early August.

"Vaccines are one of our most important weapons in the fight against COVID-19. They can give us our everyday lives back. And greater freedom.

This press conference will address:

  • How we prioritise the vaccines we have
  • Which vaccines we will use in Norway

Young people prioritised

In the first part of the vaccination programme, we will prioritise the risk groups, those over 45 and health workers.

We believe that we made the right decision, and have stood by it, even though many other prioritisation strategies have been suggested.

As we move to the second part of the vaccination programme, the Norwegian Government has decided the following:

  • We will vaccinate the age groups 18 to 24 and 40 to 44 concurrently.
  • Then we will vaccinate people aged 25 to 39.

The Norwegian Government is moving young people ahead in the vaccine queue, among other reasons because:

  • Young people have the highest rate of infection. Young adults have more social contact than older adults and they play a greater part in spreading the infection.

  • Throughout the pandemic, the Norwegian Government has prioritised children and adolescents first, but many young people have suffered much under the measures.

The Norwegian Government’s decision is in line with advice from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Even though there is no great impact in terms of lives and health, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health nonetheless believes that the vaccines will be most effective if we prioritise the age groups 18 to 24 and 40 to 44 once we are done vaccinating people over 45.

They point out that people aged 40– 44 have a slightly higher risk of falling seriously ill, but also that people aged 18– 25 have a higher risk of becoming infected.

For the Norwegian Government, the decisive factor is that this combination is most effective overall.

This will allow us to gradually reopen society more quickly.

Geographical redistribution

The Norwegian Government has decided to allow greater geographical redistribution subject to certain conditions.

The pandemic has hit some people harder than others. Some municipalities have barely seen any infection. In other parts of the country, COVID-19 has become deep-rooted, and people have lived with extremely strict measures in place over a long period of time. Consequently, the Norwegian Government has also asked the Norwegian Institute of Public Health to reassess the geographical distribution.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health believes that slightly fewer people will become seriously ill if we give a larger fraction of the vaccines to the 24 municipalities in Eastern Norway that have had a high rate of infection over time.

They believe that such a redistribution will, to a greater extent, allow us to ease measures simultaneously throughout the country.

This means that the municipalities in central Eastern Norway, which have had to endure the longest with strict measures, will not also have them the longest through spring and summer.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends that these municipalities receive 80 per cent more doses than originally planned until all people over the age of 18 have received their first dose of the vaccine. The proposal means that 319 municipalities will have to relinquish 40 to 50 per cent of their doses in June, while there will be no changes for 13 municipalities.

Among the municipalities that will relinquish doses, according to the recommendations of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, there are municipalities which have lately suffered major outbreaks. This means we have had to carefully consider our options.

The proposed redistribution will not have a great impact on infection and mortality rates. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health believes that fewer people will become seriously ill.

In the main, the Norwegian Government wishes to follow the advice regarding further geographical redistribution of the vaccines.

The most important reason for this is that we believe Norway in its entirety will be able to reopen sooner if we do it this way.

We have stood together during this crisis.

Our goal is that we also come through it together.

But we have had to make difficult decisions.

The Norwegian Government is worried that a greater redistribution may impact on the progress of the vaccination programme. The municipalities will receive many doses in the holiday month of July.

The municipalities that will receive fewer doses in June, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health’s proposal, will get these back in July. These will come in addition to the doses that they would have received. This raises the question of whether the municipalities will have the capacity to vaccinate so many people in such a short time.

According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, both 60 and 80 per cent more doses for the 24 municipalities in Eastern Norway would have approximately the same result. The Norwegian Government has decided on 60 per cent. This will reduce the pressure on the other municipalities in July.

The Norwegian Government’s decision relies on two important conditions:

We must make sure that the municipalities that receive fewer doses in June and in the beginning of July have the capacity to recoup this shortfall at the end of July.

We and the County Governors will talk to the municipalities to investigate whether vaccination in July, which is the main holiday month, can go ahead as scheduled. If we are going to change the distribution of vaccines, first we need to be sure that this will not delay the date on which the entire population will have been vaccinated.

We have also asked the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Directorate of Health to quickly assess whether the 24 municipalities in Eastern Norway which are on the list of municipalities that will receive more doses are the right ones. The 24 municipalities on the list have had a persistently high rate of infection. We must also consider whether there are other municipalities that should be prioritised or not have to relinquish doses at this time, due to their infection situation.

Soon, once these assessments have been made, we will provide concrete information on how the vaccines can be further redistributed.

The Norwegian Government has also asked the Norwegian Institute of Public Health if there are specific professions, teachers in particular, that should be prioritised in the vaccine queue. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health does not recommend this. The Norwegian Government agrees.

On a national level, the rate of infection among teachers is no higher than in other occupations. In areas where the rate of infection is high, like Oslo, this group has been more exposed to infection. But these areas will receive more vaccines as a result of our prioritising municipalities with a persistently high rate of infection. This will also ensure that teachers and kindergarten staff in these areas are vaccinated sooner.

Vaccine deliveries are now stable and satisfactory. Everyone over the age of 18 will probably have been offered vaccination before school starts in August. But if we do not receive vaccines as anticipated in the time ahead, we will consider reprioritising teachers and kindergarten staff.

Vaccines offered

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends that the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines be withdrawn from the Norwegian vaccination programme.

The Norwegian Government asked an expert committee led by Lars Vorland to perform a comprehensive assessment before we made the final decision.

The expert committee recommended not using the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines at this stage. It stressed that these are effective vaccines against serious illness and that severe side effects are rare. The reason they nonetheless advise against their use at this stage is that:

  • The current rate of infection in Norway is relatively low
  • There is good access to other vaccines.

Consequently, the Norwegian Government has concluded that the AstraZeneca vaccine will be removed permanently from the Norwegian vaccination programme.

The Norwegian Government has decided that rollout of the Janssen vaccine in the Norwegian vaccination programme will remain on pause. It will not be removed permanently.

We want to build up an emergency stockpile that we can use if the rate of infection increases or deliveries from other vaccine manufacturers are interrupted.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends this. The Janssen vaccine is being used in the USA and in many European countries. As a result, we will have more knowledge about the vaccine and its side effects in the time ahead.

The Janssen vaccine has been approved. Our reason for not using it in the national vaccination programme is that we now have a relatively low rate of infection in the population and good access to other vaccines.

In this, Norway holds a unique position. For many countries, the Janssen vaccine will be very important and useful for handling the pandemic. In Norway, our assessment is that the negative consequences of possible side effects are greater than the effects of using it. For many countries, the assessment will have a different outcome.

Norway choosing not to use neither the AstraZeneca nor the Janssen vaccines in the national vaccination programme means that Norway may fall slightly behind other European countries in terms of how many we manage to vaccinate in the near future. But our faith in the vaccination programme is strong in Norway, and many people want to be vaccinated. So, even though vaccination will take a little longer here, we are doing well in that a high percentage of the population will be vaccinated. And they will receive vaccines that are highly effective.

The national vaccination programme, which includes all adults, will consequently consist of the vaccines from Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna.

Voluntary vaccination

The Norwegian Government has considered whether people who so wish may receive the Janssen and AstraZeneca vaccines on a voluntary basis in order to be vaccinated sooner.

The expert committee supports making the Janssen and AstraZeneca vaccines available outside the vaccination programme but is divided on how this can be done.

Now that we are permanently removing the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Norwegian vaccination programme, it is important that these doses can benefit others as soon as possible.

We will keep the Janssen vaccines in an emergency stockpile, and it is a single-dose vaccine, which makes administering it easy. The Norwegian Government has therefore concluded that only the Janssen vaccine can be offered on a voluntary basis outside the vaccination programme in Norway.

The Norwegian Government believes that, with proper information and guidance, individuals can decide whether they want to take the risk of using this vaccine, and it thus supports the minority of the committee.

Before we make the Janssen vaccine available for voluntary use, several matters must be addressed.

Firstly, we will ask the Norwegian Directorate of Health to assess whether there should be any criteria that exclude certain groups from the option of choosing the Janssen vaccine because the risk is too great.

Secondly, we must ensure that there is good information about the vaccine so that individuals can make good and informed decisions.

Thirdly, we must clarify who will administer the vaccines. People who wish to be vaccinated using the Janssen vaccine will be required to consult their general practitioner first. But the vaccine will not necessarily be administered by their doctor.

The Minister of Health will be in contact with this sector to clarify who will administer the vaccines.

These questions must be answered before we can offer the Janssen vaccine to those who wish to take it.

What we already know is that the Janssen vaccine will also be free. The people who get it will be covered by the patient injury compensation scheme if they experience side effects. The vaccine may only be given on a voluntary basis, following good information and guidance from health personnel.

International cooperation

We will ensure that the AstraZeneca vaccine doses are put to use in other countries. We will do this in collaboration with the Council of Europe and the EU countries that are covered by the AstraZeneca agreement.

The EU's agreement with AstraZeneca and Janssen allows donation of vaccines to other countries. A possible solution is to pass on the vaccine doses through Covax, which is working to ensure that low and middle-income countries also receive vaccines.

I am glad that Norway has been invited to the Global Health Summit hosted by the European Commission and the G20 towards the end of next week. There we will work for better distribution of vaccines to other countries. We know that the virus does not care about borders and that new mutations in the summer may threaten the positive trend.

As we have stressed time and time again during this pandemic: no one is safe until all the world’s countries are safe.

Conclusion

Bent often says that we will continue to receive good and bad vaccination news. The news we bring today will without a doubt be received as good news by some and bad news by others, and I understand this perfectly well.

The decisions of the Norwegian Government mean that some people will receive the vaccine sooner than they thought, while others will have to wait a little longer. It has been a demanding task to consider the arguments and make these difficult decisions.

But I would like to remind you of something I said earlier. We are in this together – and we will come through together.  

The decisions made by the Norwegian Government will bring us back to everyday life faster – together.