News story | Date: 10/05/2021
On Monday 10 May, Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie received the expert committee's report on the use of viral vector vaccines in Norway. The report recommends that the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines not be used in the Norwegian COVID-19 vaccination programme. The committee recommends making the vaccines available for use outside the programme, but is divided on which criteria should apply to such use.
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“The committee has done much good work in a short amount of time. The Norwegian Government will now review the report thoroughly and use it, alongside the recommendation from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, to make a decision regarding the use of these vaccines”, said Mr Høie when receiving the report.
The expert committee, which is led by Mr Lars Vorland, has made a comprehensive risk assessment on the use of viral vector vaccines on both the individual and the societal level. The committee has both national and international members and has, among other, assessed international data on side effects and risk.
Important for the reopening
Vaccination of the population is an important factor in order to be able to reopen society in Norway.
The use of the AstraZeneca vaccine was temporarily paused on 11 March this year when rare and very severe side effects were discovered. In April, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommended the withdrawal of this vaccine from the vaccination programme due to the risk of these rare but very severe side effects. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health’s recommendation was made in light of the relatively low infection level in Norway.
The Norwegian Government wanted a broader assessment which would include experiences with these vaccines in other countries and what delaying the vaccination process would mean in terms of strain on the population and on society as a whole. For this purpose, an expert committee was appointed to investigate the consequences of using or not using viral vector vaccines such as the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines in Norway.
“We have recently had many good pieces of vaccination news. We are receiving more and larger deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and studies have shown that people are very well protected already three weeks after the first dose of the vaccine. Consequently, we have extended the interval between the first and the second dose of the vaccine so that more people can be vaccinated more quickly. All in all, these are factors that make the exclusion of viral vector vaccines less daunting news”, says Mr Høie.
The recommendations of the expert committee
The expert committee has performed ethical and legal assessments, socio-economic analyses, and assessments of health-related and social consequences. The committee has established that, all in all, the viral vector vaccines are effective vaccines against COVID-19. The recommendation not to include them in the vaccination programme is based on the infection situation in Norway.
According to the report, “changes in rates of infection, new virus mutations, unforeseen vaccine delivery issues, and potential new information concerning side effects may lead to other conclusions.”
The committee believes that it is still not possible to determine who may have an increased risk of developing severe side effects such as blood clots and low platelet counts, neither before nor after vaccination. Consequently, the committee is unable to identify potential recipients of the viral vector vaccines based on age or gender. Neither is there currently any effective treatment for the severe side effects.
The committee is divided on which criteria should apply to voluntary use if the vaccines are made available outside the vaccination programme. The majority believes that the current infection situation in Norway indicates that offering voluntary viral vector vaccination will only be warranted as an exception in certain cases.
A minority believes that the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines should be offered on prescription to those who want it. They stress that each individual person is best able to assess the risk, their own situation, and their need to get a vaccine several weeks sooner than through the vaccination programme.