Norwegian experts conclude ‘strong immune response’ from AstraZeneca vaccine linked to blood clots

A group of medical experts at Oslo University Hospital said on Thursday that blood clots in three health workers who took the AstraZeneca vaccine were triggered by an immune system response.

Norwegian experts conclude 'strong immune response' from AstraZeneca vaccine linked to blood clots

Three health care workers under the age of 50 were admitted to hospital with severe blood clots after taking the vaccine. One of the three later died of a brain haemorrhage.

“We have found the cause. There is nothing but the vaccine that can explain the immune reaction that occurred,” Pål Andre Holme, professor and chief physician at Oslo University Hospital told newspaper VG.

Holme led a team that worked round the clock to find out why the health workers, who were all aged under 50, were admitted to hospital with blood clots after taking the vaccine.

Now they believe they have confirmed a theory that there was an immune system reaction associated with the vaccine.

“Our theory that this is a strong immune response which with high probability came after the vaccine has been found,” Holme said.

“In collaboration with (the specialist department for blood clots) at the University Hospital of North Norway (UNN), we have now proved that it is specific anti-bodies against platelets that can give the outcome that we have seen elsewhere in medicine, and with medication as the triggering cause,” he continued.

READ ALSO: Norway health official counters AstraZeneca over vaccine safety statement

The specialist also said that there was “no other medical history in these patients that could give such a strong immune response”. He stressed that antibodies in general are not the cause of the problem, which involves “very specific” antibodies.

The reaction in the cases in question involved blood clots and a lack of platelets, VG writes.

When asked if he thinks the findings mean that the vaccination should be stopped, Holme said that this was up to Norwegian Medicines Agency to decide.

“I have no idea about that, it is not me who should assess it,” he said according to Aftenposten.  

Norway has already suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. So far Norway has vaccinated 120,000 people with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is expected to present its assessment of the vaccine at 5pm on Thursday, after several countries in the EU suspended its use. One of the assessments that the EMA must decide on is whether they will withdraw the approval of the vaccine for use.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency is waiting on the EMA´s Assessment before commenting, VG reports. AstraZeneca, the manufacturer of the vaccine, also declined to immediately comment on the matter.

“We are awaiting the EMA’s decision later today,” AstraZeneca’s head of media communications Christina Malmberg Hägerstrand told news agency NTB.

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Explained: How to register with a doctor in Norway 

If you're here for the long term, you will need to sign up for a GP or 'fastlege', who will be the main point of contact for your health needs. Here's what you need to know about the GP system. 

Explained: How to register with a doctor in Norway 

The overwhelming majority in Norway are entitled to a general doctor, GP, or as it’s known in Norwegian, a fastlege

Broadly speaking, those living and working in Norway legally are automatically enrolled in the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme. Everyone who is a part of this scheme is entitled to healthcare services and a GP by extension

One thing to note is that to be entitled to a GP, you will need to have a national identity number rather than a D-number. If you are unsure whether you are entitled to a GP, you can call helsenorge’s helpline (47 23 32 70 00). 

You won’t automatically be assigned a GP, though, you will have to register yourself.

READ ALSO: Six essential words you need when speaking to a doctor in Norway

How to sign up 

To find a GP, you will need to head to Norway’s digital health portal, helsenorge, and log in. You will need an electronic ID such as Commfides, BankID or Buypass ID to sign in. 

Once signed up, you can select the county you are in and see a list of doctors in your local area. The list will have the doctor’s name, age and gender, and if a substitute is covering them. 

In addition to this, the list includes how many spots the doctor has left for patients. If the GP you want isn’t available, you can join a waiting list. 

Am I allowed to change my doctor? 

If it doesn’t go to plan with the doctor you selected, you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

You are allowed to change your GP two times in one calendar year. You can also change your fastlege if your address in the national population register changes or the GP leaves the surgery or cuts their patient list. 

The change becomes effective from the first day of the following month. 

What else should I know? 

More and more residents have been left without a doctor or on a waiting list in recent years. 

The number of people without or waiting for a GP in March 2021 was 150,000, according to the latest annual report on the state of the fastlege system from the Norwegian Directorate of Health

An earlier report from the directorate has warned that a GP shortage could eventually lead to increased health inequality in Norway

Previous reports have said that the reason for the large number of people waiting for a GP was problems with recruiting more doctors. 

One piece of practical information you’ll need to be aware of is that when you change GPs, it is your responsibility to ensure your medical records are transferred to the new GP. You’ll need to contact your former GP surgery and ask them to forward your record to your new practice. 

And finally, it’s worth clearing up the misconception that healthcare in Norway is free. It isn’t. It’s actually covered by the National Insurance Scheme, with users paying small subsidies for healthcare. For example, a consultation with a GP costs 160 kroner

What do foreigners think of the GP system? 

The Local’s readers have previously shared their thoughts on the country’s healthcare system. Among the positives were competent GPs, excellent quality of treatment, and good quality service. 

Some said that finding a same-day appointment with their GP. 

However, this doesn’t apply to everyone’s experience, and the most frequent issues readers had were long waiting lists for appointments and being assigned a GP. 

READ MORE: What do foreigners think of the Norwegian healthcare system?