Norway suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Norway's health authorities said Thursday they were suspending the use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine as a precaution following Denmark's decision to do so over fears of a link to blood clots.

Norway suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

“We are pausing the AstraZeneca vaccination in Norway,” the director of infection prevention and control at the National Institute of Public Health (NIPH), Geir Bukholm, told reporters.

“We are waiting for more information to see if there is a link between the vaccine and this blood clot case,” he said.

Danish health authorities said Thursday they were temporarily suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine as a precaution after some patients developed blood clots since receiving the jab. One of the patients in Denmark died.

One case of blood clotting has been reported in connection to AstraZeneca vaccine in Norway, The Norwegian Medicines Agency (Legemiddelverket, NMA) told national broadcaster NRK. It is currently unclear whether the clotting was connected to the vaccine itself.

Since AstraZeneca was launched in Norway on 8th February the NMA has received 394 reports of suspected side effects, 15 of them serious.

This pause means that NIPH will stop sending the vaccine to municipalities and the doses that have been sent out to sites will not be used. Several municipalities and cities have already paused their vaccinations.

Currently no scientific link has been established between the blood clots and the vaccine. This is what Denmark, Norway and other countries will now begin investigating.

The vaccines manufacturer, AstraZeneca stated in a comment to news wire NTB that they believe the vaccine is safe.

“The safety of the vaccine has been studied extensively in clinical third-phase studies, and peer reviewed data confirm that the vaccine is generally well tolerated,” they said in a statement to NTB while emphasising they are aware of the Danish investigation.

So far 120,000 people in Norway have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. The suspension comes two days after NIPH said it was now recommending the vaccine for all people over the age of 18. Previously only health personnel and those under the age of 65 were offered the vaccine.

The suspension is expected to cause delays to Norway’s vaccination program. People waiting for both their first and second doses of the vaccine will now have to wait longer than expected.

“We will prepare an updated version of the vaccine delivery scenario,” Bukholm said at the briefing.

It is not yet known how the long the suspension will last. However, NIPH senior medical advisor Sara Sofie Watle Viksmoen told national paper VG “it won’t last for months.”

She also said it was a difficult decision to halt the vaccine in the midst of a pandemic but that the suspension was the lesser of the two evils.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency is working to collect all data and research to see whether the blood clots are directly linked to the vaccine. They have already been in contact with their Danish counterparts to get more information.

“This is of the highest priority, both in Norway, Denmark and the EMA (European Medicines Agency) said NMA director Steiner Madsen.

Madsen also said “It is very important to say that these are very, very rare side effects” .

There have also been reports from Austria of two young people getting blood clots, one fatal, after receiving vaccines.

However, the EMA has already concluded on Wednesday that the incidents in Austria do not appear to be related to the vaccine.

The EMA has said it is aware of Denmark’s decision to pause use of the vaccine but has not itself recommended countries suspend its distribution.

“There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine,” EMA in a statement.

“The position of EMA’s safety committee is that the vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh its risks and the vaccine can continue to be administered while investigation of cases of thromboembolic events [blood clots, ed.] is ongoing,” it added.

EMA also wrote that “30 cases of vaccines were found in close to 5 million vaccinations”.

In addition to Norway and Denmark, Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Luxembourg are also pausing inoculations with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Germany and Sweden say that they will not be putting the vaccine on hold.

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Could Oslo-Copenhagen overnight train be set for return?

A direct overnight rail service between the Norwegian and Danish capitals has not operated since 2001, but authorities in Oslo are considering its return.

Norway’s transport minister Knut Arild Hareide has asked the country’s railway authority Jernbanedirektoratet to investigate the options for opening a night rail connection between Oslo and Copenhagen.

An answer is expected by November 1st, after which the Norwegian government will decide whether to go forward with the proposal to directly link the two Nordic capitals by rail.

Jernbanedirektoratet is expected to assess a timeline for introducing the service along with costs, market and potential conflicts with other commercial services covering the route.

“I hope we’ll secure a deal. Cross-border trains are exciting, including taking a train to Malmö, Copenhagen and onwards to Europe,” Hareide told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

The minister said he envisaged either a state-funded project or a competition awarding a contract for the route’s operation to the best bidder.

A future Oslo-Copenhagen night train rests on the forthcoming Jernbanedirektoratet report and its chances of becoming a reality are therefore unclear. But the Norwegian rail authority earlier this year published a separate report on ways in which passenger train service options from Norway to Denmark via Sweden can be improved.

“We see an increasing interest in travelling out of Norway by train,” Jernbanedirektoratet project manager  Hanne Juul said in a statement when the report was published in January.

“A customer study confirmed this impression and we therefore wish to make it simpler to take the train to destinations abroad,” Juul added.

Participants in the study said that lower prices, fewer connections and better information were among the factors that would encourage them to choose the train for a journey abroad.

Norway’s rail authority also concluded that better international cooperation would optimise cross-border rail journeys, for example by making journey and departure times fit together more efficiently.

The Femahrn connection between Denmark and Germany, currently under construction, was cited as a factor which could also boost the potential for an overland rail connection from Norway to mainland Europe.

Night trains connected Oslo to Europe via Copenhagen with several departures daily as recently as the late 1990s, but the last such night train between the two cities ran in 2001 amid dwindling demand.

That trend has begun to reverse in recent years due in part to an increasing desire among travellers to select a greener option for their journey than flying.

Earlier this summer, a new overnight train from Stockholm to Berlin began operating. That service can be boarded by Danish passengers at Høje Taastrup near Copenhagen.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the new night train from Copenhagen to Germany