Norway should exclude the COVID-19 vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson from its inoculation programme due to a risk of rare but harmful side-effects, a government-appointed commission said on Monday.
Those who volunteer to take either vaccines should however be allowed to do so, a majority of the commission said, as it emphasised the importance of dispelling any vaccine hesitancy.
Norway suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout on March 11 after a small number of younger inoculated people were hospitalised for a combination of blood clots, bleeding and a low platelet count, some of whom later died.
On April 15, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said the AstraZeneca vaccine should be dropped entirely but the government sought further advice from its commission. It also sought advice on the J&J jabs, which have not been used in Norway, despite European Medicines Agency approval.
In explaining its recommendations, the commission said eight Norwegian cases of severe clotting had been linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine, and four of those recipients had died.
“Great emphasis must be placed on maintaining confidence in the national vaccination scheme so that immunity can be established in the population in multiple potential rounds of vaccination in the coming years,” the commission said.
Health Minister Bent Hoeie told a news conference: “The government will use this as basis for its decision, together with recommendations from the Institute of Public Health, on whether to use these vaccines.”
He did not say when the government would make its decision.
Separately, on Monday, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) also recommended the Johnson & Johnson shot should not be used, citing the same rare but serious adverse reactions as for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Neither AstraZeneca nor Johnson & Johnson immediately replied to requests for comment.
While the EMA has said the benefits of AstraZeneca’s cheap and easily transportable vaccine in fighting the pandemic outweigh any risks, several European countries have limited use to older age groups. The EMA has also backed the J&J vaccine, which is based on a similar technology to AstraZeneca’s.
Norway currently uses only vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech.
Feeding into the government’s decision on the vaccines, the FHI also said rates of infection were under control in Norway and that nearly 90% of those aged 65 and over had received a first vaccine dose.
One in three Norwegian adults have so far received at least one dose, and authorities expect all adults to be offered their first jab by July 25, even without the use of the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The earlier suspension of the AstraZeneca shot and the decision to hold off on using Johnson & Johnson’s were partly made possible by Norway experiencing lower levels of infections than elsewhere in Europe, the FHI has said.
The move comes in contrast to Germany, which said on Monday it would make the Johnson & Johnson shot available to all adults. The recommendation not to use AstraZeneca and J&J was in line with decisions already made by neighbouring Denmark, which became the first nation to ditch the vaccines