By Victoria Klesty
OSLO (Reuters) -Norway will take more time to assess whether to resume the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 or stop it altogether, health minister Bent Hoeie said on Thursday.
Norway’s Institute of Public Health (FHI) recommended ending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, in line with a Danish decision announced on Wednesday, but the government needs more information before making a final call, the minister said.
Norway on March 11 suspended the rollout of the vaccine after a small number of younger inoculated people were hospitalised for a combination of blood clots, bleeding and a low count of platelets, some of whom later died.
“The government believes that we do not have a good enough basis for drawing a final conclusion that the AstraZeneca vaccine should be removed from the Norwegian vaccination program at this point,” Hoeie told a news conference.
The government will appoint a public commission to broaden the evaluation and include additional information from other countries. The commission will deliver a report by May 10, Hoeie said.
The evaluation will also concern whether to use the COVID vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, also referred to as Janssen.
“If we say a final ‘no’ to the AstraZeneca vaccine, this could also impact our ability to consider using the Janssen vaccine, which is built on the same technology,” Hoeie said.
Declining to use both the AstraZeneca and the Janssen vaccine would likely delay completion of Norway’s vaccine rollout for adults by seven weeks until late September, from a previous plan to finish in July, the FHI said.
Norway was one of over a dozen European countries to have suspended the rollout of the vaccine, although most have since resumed its use on the advice of the European Medicines Agency, with many limiting its use to older age groups.
The suspension in Norway came after five people were hospitalised for a combination of blood clots, bleeding and a low count of platelets after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. Three of them later died.
Norway’s continued suspension was partly made possible by Norway experiencing lower levels of infections than elsewhere in Europe, FHI has said.
(Additional reporting by Gwladys Fouche and Nora Buli, Editing by Terje Solsvik and Alistair Bell)