The AstraZeneca vaccine will be removed from the COVID-19 vaccination programme

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The Norwegian Government is following the recommendation of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Vorland committee and is removing the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Norwegian vaccination programme. The Janssen vaccine will be stockpiled while the Norwegian Government considers how to offer this vaccine on a voluntary basis.

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Rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine was paused on 11 March 2021 following reports of rare but serious side effects. The Janssen vaccine is also a viral vector vaccine like the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it can have the same side effects. At present the Janssen vaccine has not been rolled out in Norway.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has recommended that the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines be withdrawn from the Norwegian vaccination programme.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 of their use before making the final decision regarding whether or not to use these vaccines in Norway. The expert group advised against use of the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines in the vaccination programme due to the risk of rare but serious side effects. This recommendation must be seen in light of the low rate of infection in Norway and good access to other vaccines.

"The Norwegian Government has decided not to use the AstraZeneca vaccine in Norway, not even on a voluntary basis. The rare but serious side effects we have seen in Norway indicate that the risks do not outweigh the benefits. This is particularly true as we expect a considerably higher number of mRNA vaccines in the future, and the interval between the first and the second dose of the vaccine has been extended, so that more people will be vaccinated more quickly", says Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie.

Donation of AstraZeneca vaccines
The EU's agreement with AstraZeneca and Janssen allows donation of vaccines to other countries. One option is that the doses awarded to Norway are returned to the EU. Another option is to pass on vaccine doses to other countries through the Covax vaccine alliance. The Norwegian Government is now beginning the work of finding a practical solution to this issue.

"We are doing this in collaboration with the Council of Europe and the EU countries that are covered by the AstraZeneca agreement. The AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved by the European Medicines Agency and the Norwegian Medicines Agency. This is an effective vaccine which has been used in many other countries, and we will therefore make sure that Norway's doses can be used in other countries with a more serious infection situation than here in Norway", states Mr Høie.

Norway has, among other things, lent doses to Sweden and Iceland while use of the vaccine has been paused in this country. Read more at Regjeringen.no.

The Janssen vaccine may be offered on a voluntary basis
The Norwegian Government has decided that rollout of the Janssen vaccine in the Norwegian vaccination programme will remain on pause. Changes in rates of infection, new virus variants, unforeseen vaccine delivery issues, and potential new information concerning side effects may lead to other conclusions.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health does not recommend voluntary use of the vaccine outside the vaccination programme, while the Vorland committee as a whole agrees that the viral vector vaccines should be offered to the population outside the vaccination programme. The committee is divided on how this should happen in practice and to which extent.

The Norwegian Government supports the view of the minority that each individual person is best able to assess their own situation and that each person must decide whether the risk is acceptable. This makes it particularly important to ensure that each person receives good and up-to-date information. The vaccine may only be given on a voluntary basis, following good information and guidance from health personnel.

"We will ask the Norwegian Directorate of Health to investigate how this can be done. The Directorate will be asked to examine which criteria will apply in such cases, how information about risks will be provided, where the vaccines will be given, and by whom. If the Janssen vaccine is offered, it will be free, and the people who are offered it will be covered by the patient injury compensation scheme if they experience side effects", says Mr Høie.

Stockpile of Janssen vaccines
Norway has ordered 3.77 million doses of the Janssen vaccine, and now has about 72 000 doses in storage at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. This vaccine can be stored for up to 2 years. The situation regarding future vaccine deliveries is riskier if there are fewer suppliers. In addition, the infection situation may change. The Norwegian Government has therefore decided to stockpile the Janssen vaccine in accordance with the recommendation from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is tasked with assessing the size of the stockpile. As with the AstraZeneca vaccine, we will consider donating any excess doses.