Norwegians run a greater risk of dying from being inoculated with AstraZeneca's vaccine than from COVID-19, the National Institute of Public Health (FHI) concluded in its analysis, recommending the vaccine, previously linked to serious complications in the form of rare blood clotting and haemorrhage amid low platelet counts.
Abstaining from the vaccine could possibly prevent up to 10 deaths related to side effects, the FHI said, according to the newspaper Verdens Gang.
So far, Norway has seen five cases of serious incidents reported shortly after vaccination, with three fatalities. FHI has calculated the mortality rate from the AstraZeneca vaccine as 2.3 people per 100,000 vaccinated.
The FHI stressed that continuing to inoculate will by contrast expose younger women to an “unreasonably high risk”, given the current relatively levels of infection in Norway.
Furthermore, the institute is against offering the vaccine on a voluntary basis, which has been proposed both in Norway and fellow Scandinavian nations.
“We believe that such an alternative may appear unethical and with a high risk that those who make such a choice have not fully understood the risk to which they are exposed,” the institute said.
The FHI also ventured that recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine for further use could lead to lower confidence among the population in vaccination programmes in general.
“This could lead to a lower vaccination rate and vaccination rate in the long run, and that patients in risk groups will also say no to vaccines.”
A recent survey by the FHI in collaboration with Mindshare and Norstat, indicated that 76 percent of the respondents were sceptical of at least one of the vaccines, even though 82 percent were initially positive about getting vaccinated. Of the vaccines, AstraZeneca gained the highest level of scepticism at 99 percent, compared with Moderna (9 percent) and Pfizer (8 percent).
However, the government believes it is too early to discontinue the vaccine completely, and is instead launching a new expert group to further investigate both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which triggered similar concerns.
Pending a final decision, however, Norway has decided to distribute its stock of AstraZeneca to fellow Nordic countries that actually want to use them.
Of the Norwegian stock, Sweden will borrow 200,000, while 16,000 will go to Iceland.
“If the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine is resumed, we will get back the doses we lend as soon as we request it. Sweden and Iceland will then send back the doses from their first deliveries from AstraZeneca,” Health Minister Bent Høie said, as quoted by Verdens Gang.
The Swedish Public Health Agency has made a different assessment of the AstraZeneca vaccine and has concluded that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks and the side effects.
The agency's Swedish equivalent, the Swedish Public Health Agency, has, however, made a completely different assessment and believes that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risk of side effects.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell described the contentious vaccine as having a “high protective effect” and “reducing the risk of serious illness and death, especially among the elderly and weak”.
Earlier this spring, dozens of countries temporarily stopped the use of the AstraZeneca shot amid reports of side effects. Of them, many, like Sweden, have since resumed inoculation, citing a precarious infection situation and shortages of other vaccines.