Norway extends pause of AstraZeneca vaccine until April 15th

Norway on Friday extended a suspension of the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine until April 15th, with health officials saying they needed more time to investigate a potential link to severe blood clotting.

Norway extends pause of AstraZeneca vaccine until April 15th
Photo: Fred TANNEAU / AFP

“It is a difficult but correct decision to extend the pause for the AstraZeneca vaccine. We believe it is necessary to carry out more investigations into these cases,” Geir Bukholm, Director of the Division of Infection Control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), said in a statement.

The vaccine was originally suspended on March 11th following reports of suspected serious side effects. 

In the Nordic country, several healthcare workers under the age of 55 have suffered symptoms including blood clots, bleeding and a drop in blood platelets after receiving the AstraZeneca jab.

Four deaths have been reported, with three from combinations of these complications and one from a brain haemorrhage.

No link has been established with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker’s vaccine, although a Norwegian medical team said it saw these rare but serious cases as the result of a “powerful immune response” triggered by the serum.

EU drugs regulator EMA last week said the vaccine was “safe and effective” and not linked to a higher risk of blood clots, but could not “rule out definitively” its role in the rare clotting disorder.

The World Health Organization has also urged countries to continue using the vaccine, arguing the benefits outweigh any potential risks.

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

“The most important thing is to determine whether there is a causal link between the vaccination and these very serious side effects, as we suspect,” NIPH director Camilla Stoltenberg told public broadcaster NRK radio.

The deputy leader of the Norwegian Nurses Association (Sykepleierforbundet), Kai Øivind Brenden, told broadcaster NRK that he is satisfied that the NIPH has decided to extend the suspension.

“We think it is a wise decision, as long as there is so much uncertainty, we think it is wise (to take the time) to make the necessary risk assessments,” Brenden said. 

Among the first to suspend AstraZeneca’s vaccine, the Nordic countries are now adopting different strategies.

While Denmark on Thursday announced a three-week extension of the pause to allow time for a closer look at possible side effects of the vaccine, Finland, Iceland and Sweden are restarting their rollouts, although only for older people.

In a statement released on its website, NIPH said it wanted to get more information surrounding the following questions:

  • Is there an increased incidence of the combination of blood clots, bleeding and low platelet counts among those who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine compared to those that haven’t?
  • If so, what is the reason for such a connection?
  • Are there any factors in the patients that may have contributed to the condition such as age, gender, or other underlying diseases/conditions?

Prime Minister Erna Solberg told news wire NTB that she believes that valuable information can be gained from the United Kingdom in regard to the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The UK is the country that has used AstraZeneca the most in the largest groups and must have a basis to be able to say something about this,” Solberg said. 

So far 120,000 people in Norway have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca.

The suspension is expected to delay the Norwegian vaccination programme by one to two weeks, NIPH said, and people who have already received a first dose of the vaccine would not be offered a second injection at this stage.

The health authority said that data from United Kingdom suggested that the first does should provide good protection against a severe disease course.

In the NIPH’s best case scenario plan it had hoped to have everyone over the age vaccinated by June. 

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Fellesferie: Everything you need to know about Norway’s collective holiday period

Norway’s collective holiday period, or fellesferie, is almost upon us, but what is it, where does it come from and are you legally entitled to it? Here’s what you need to know.

Fellesferie: Everything you need to know about Norway’s collective holiday period
Norwegians playing a game of beach volleyball. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

What is fellesferie? 

Fellesferie is the collective leave period or general staff holiday period that many Norwegian companies have adopted, which takes place during July. 

The origins of fellesferie date back to the interwar years, when employers and employees in the Norwegian metal smelting industry agreed on a collective holiday period of three weeks. 

For the companies, it was more practical and profitable to let the workers all take holidays at the same time and close their operations down completely than it was to let workers take holidays at different times and disrupt production levels. 

The scheme then made its way to other industries, and over time, it gradually became a tradition that has carried on into the modern day and has become about as Norwegian as Bunads and brown cheese

What happens during fellesferie?

If you’ve not experienced the holiday period in Norway yet, it’ll feel like everything is coming to a grinding halt.

Many companies will shut down entirely or operate vastly reduced opening hours. As a result, big cities such as Oslo can feel practically deserted as everyone flocks to the beaches, fjords and mountains – often staying in their country retreats or hyttes If they aren’t travelling abroad.

READ ALSO: ‘Hyttefolk’:Why Norwegians are so passionate about cabin retreats

Even Norway’s top professional football league takes fellesferie. This is particularly annoying for fans as it means the season drags on into November, where temperatures will start dipping into the minuses, leaving their teeth chattering while they cheer on their team from the terraces.

Some essential services like banks will remain open but with vastly reduced opening hours.  

It can be hard to get stuff done during fellesferie because, in case you haven’t noticed, when Norwegians are out of the office, they are out of the office. 

This means that if you have any urgent business that needs doing, you best get it done before fellesferie because getting a reply to an email or getting somebody to take a call while they are on vacation in Norway is largely impossible.

When is fellesferie? 

Fellesferie marks the last three weeks of July and lasts for three weeks until the beginning of August. Fellesferie in Norway starts on July 12th this year. 

The reason why it takes place in July is pretty simple. Kids are still on Sommerferie, or summer holiday, and the days are still long and warm. 

Fellesferie represents the chance for Norwegians to make to most of any warm weather that comes their way, an opportunity they certainly don’t take for granted given the harsh winters in the Nordic country. 

Is fellesferie legally enforceable? 

In short, no. Fellesferie isn’t an official public holiday, nor can employers be legally forced to let staff take a holiday during fellesferie

However, under the holiday act, employees can demand to take up to three consecutive weeks off during the main holiday period – which is between June 1st and the last day of September. 

This means that employees can still take an extended summer vacation that employers will have to grant. However, that doesn’t mean they have to give you vacation during fellesferie

Another perk of the aforementioned Holiday Act, or ferieloven, is that if you fall sick during your leave, you can request to have the time you were ill back as more holiday. You will need to provide your employers with a medical certificate, though.