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COVID-19

AstraZeneca benefits outweigh risks, EMA says as EU orders 10 million more Pfizer doses

The EU's medicines regulator said Tuesday it was "firmly convinced" the benefits of AstraZeneca's vaccine outweigh potential risks, insisting there was no evidence linking it to blood clots after several nations suspended the shot over health fears. It came as Brussels sealed a deal for 10 million more Pfizer doses.

AstraZeneca benefits outweigh risks, EMA says as EU orders 10 million more Pfizer doses
This file illustration picture shows vials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and a figurine taken in a studio Paris on March 11, 2021. Joel Saget/AFP

The suspensions have provoked intense debate over whether it was prudent to put AstraZeneca inoculations on hold just as vaccination campaigns were beginning to gather pace in many countries.

Experts at both the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency met Tuesday to discuss the vaccine, with the European organisation expected to publish conclusions Thursday.

While millions of doses of the vaccine developed with Oxford University have been administered, small numbers of people have developed blood clots, prompting countries including the European Union’s three largest nations – Germany, France and Italy – to suspend injections.

But the EMA insisted that countries should continue using the vaccine.

“We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death outweigh the risk of these side effects,” EMA chief Emer Cooke said Tuesday.

“At present there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions,” she added, echoing the WHO and drugmaker AstraZeneca itself.

Cooke noted however that the regulator was “looking at adverse events associated with all vaccines”.

France and Italy welcomed the news.

“Today’s preliminary statements from EMA are encouraging,” said a joint statement from French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Tuesday vowed he would be vaccinated “very quickly” with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to give the public confidence in the jab if it is ruled as safe by the EU medicines agency.

In France, health authorities said Tuesday they are investigating a new coronavirus variant found in the western Brittany region. The variant appears to be more difficult for nasal tests to detect, however for now it does not appear to be more dangerous or contagious.

Covid, not jab, to blame?

In Britain, which has administered more than 11 million AstraZeneca doses, experts see no evidence of more frequent blood clots among the inoculated.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in The Times newspaper that the shot “is safe and works extremely well”.

French immunologist Alain Fischer, who heads a government vaccination advisory board, said a higher than normal number of pulmonary embolisms – blood clots in the lungs – had caused alarm at the weekend.

“There were a few very unusual and troubling cases which justify this pause and the analysis,” Fischer told France Inter radio.

But one British scientist has argued that Covid-19 itself – and not the vaccine – could be to blame, as it was known to cause such problems.

The “very likely explanation of at least some of the clotting disorders seen are a result of Covid-19 rather than the vaccine”, said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmaco-epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“Hence, even if there were a problem, acknowledged to be very rare with the AZ vaccine, the overall benefit would be so much greater than any speculative harm,” he added.

Coronavirus deaths across Europe meanwhile passed the 900,000 mark on Tuesday, making it the worst-hit global region in absolute terms, according to an AFP tally.

10 million Pfizer doses

More than 382 million doses of vaccine have been administered globally, the vast majority in wealthier countries while many poorer nations have yet to receive a single jab.

AstraZeneca’s shot, among the cheapest available, was billed as the vaccine of choice for poorer nations and the clot reports have had an impact beyond Europe.

Other countries that have halted or delayed the rollout include Indonesia, Venezuela, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands – with Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Sweden the latest to join the list.

The pandemic spurred unprecedented efforts to develop vaccines, with a number of successful options now available.

Rollouts have been hampered by export controls, bitter diplomatic disputes and production issues – in addition to the AstraZeneca suspension.

But on Tuesday Brussels sealed a deal to step up deliveries of 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, now scheduled to arrive in the EU before July rather than in the third quarter.

And a new agreement for Germany’s IDT Biologika to help produce the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine would offer Europe greater certainty, Germany’s economy minister said.

The developers of Russia’s successful Sputnik V vaccine also said they had reached production agreements in key European countries.

Member comments

  1. Unbelievable. The country has never been sicker, and what does the government do? Take AstraZeneca out of its arsenal to fight the virus. And NOT ONE WORD about what we, with jab #1, are supposed to do about jab #2. It’s insanity.

  2. It’s all political, there has been no mention of the deaths and blood clots that have happened with the Pfizer?

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TRAVEL NEWS

Tourists: What to do if you catch Covid-19 in Norway 

All Covid travel rules for Norway have been completely lifted for a while now- but what happens if you test positive or start to develop Covid symptoms while you are here?

Tourists: What to do if you catch Covid-19 in Norway 

Covid travel rules in Norway have been lifted for a while, and all but a few recommendations remain domestically. This is a far cry from a similar time last year when Norway had very strict travel rules in place. 

Testing

Close contacts of Covid infected are not required to get a test, meaning if you have been in contact with somebody with Covid-19, you will not be required to get tested under the official rules. 

However, if you wish to take a test, you can buy self-tests at supermarkets and pharmacies. You can also order Covid-19 tests from Norwegian municipalities if you want a PCR test. You can find the contact information for every municipality in Norway here. Facemasks are also widely available in shops and pharmacies. 

Several private providers, such as Volvat and Dr Dropin, offer antigen and PCR tests with results within 24 hours. However, municipality tests can take longer to deliver results. If you need a test to travel home, you will not be able to get one from a local authority. These tests are only for those with symptoms of Covid-19.  

Home tests will not cost more than 60 kroner from supermarkets, while a municipality test will be free. However, private providers’ tests are pricier, costing between 1,000 and 1,500 kroner at most private clinics.

Isolation

There are also no specific rules in regards to isolation. 

“If you have respiratory symptoms, you should stay at home until you feel well. If you feel well, you can live as normal,” Helsenorge advises on its websiteMeaning that if you are asymptomatic, you aren’t advised to isolate. 

Other symptoms which you may need to isolate with include headache and blocked nose and influenza-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat and feeling unwell. 

The isolation information means you will need to liaise with the hotel or accommodation you are staying at. 

Travellers are advised to check what their insurance covers before taking out a policy to avoid being left out of pocket if they have to pay for new flights or an extended stay because they are isolating. 

If you test positive, you are also advised to steer clear of those in risk groups. 

Self-isolation advice applies regardless of vaccination status or previous infection. 

What else should I know? 

If your symptoms get worse, the best course of practice would be to contact a standard GP.

You can also contact the out-of-hours urgent care number on 116 117. This will put you through to the nearest urgent care centre to you. Visitors can also call for an ambulance on 113, but this is only advisable in life-threatening situations, such as a stroke or cardiac arrest.

In addition to checking your insurance policy, you also will need to check the rules of the country you are returning to or travelling through in case you may need a test to enter. 

If you have an EHIC card and receive medical care after testing positive for Covid-19, you will only be required to pay the same subsidised fees Norwegians do for healthcare. Despite this, European citizens are also advised to take out travel insurance. 

Non-European visitors are entitled to urgent medical care but will need to pay the full cost with no prospect of reimbursement if they don’t have health insurance. 

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