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Why Norway turned down the chance to order nearly 700,000 Covid-19 vaccines

The Norwegian government secured an option for 1.9 million vaccine doses through the equitable access Covax scheme. When the opportunity came to purchase the first 677,000 doses the government declined.

Why Norway turned down the chance to order nearly 700,000 Covid-19 vaccines
(Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

Norway last year secured the option to purchase a large number of Covid-19 vaccine doses through the Vaccines Global Access (Covax). 

Led by organisations including UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Covax aims to offer equal access to vaccines for all countries. The scheme is primarily funded by wealthy Western countries, with the EU having pledged €500 million as of November 2020.

Norway paid 61 million kroner into to Covax last year, according to news wire NTB. That gave the country the option of receiving 1.9 million vaccine doses through the scheme, but the government chose to transfer the opportunity to order the doses to poorer countries, according to the report.

Though media Development Today has reported that the doses were “intended for domestic use in Norway”, minister for foreign development Dag Inge Ulstein told news agency NTB that the money paid to Covax came out of the budget for assisting development and that it was not correct to say that Norway has donated vaccines intended for the Norwegian public.

“In theory there may be a possibility that Norway could have demanded these vaccines for its own use, instead of the original intention which was to provide vulnerable health workers (with vaccines) in poor countries,” Ulstein said to NTB.

As such, Gavi informed Norway in February that 677,000 doses have been transferred under the scheme in accordance with a government decision taken in November last year.

It is expected that Norway will relinquish the option for the remaining 1.2 million doses, but this has not yet been formally decided, NTB writes.

Norway’s global health ambassador, John Arne Røttingen told NTB that the investment in Covax was made as an insurance policy in case the country was unable to secure enough vaccines through the EU.

READ MORE: Johnson & Johnson confirms schedule for vaccine delivery to Norway 

When the Gavi contacted the Norwegian government in November 2020 with the option to purchase the first set of doses Norwegian health authorities were then confident they would secure enough doses from the EU.

“We as a country said no and transferred these options to the poorest countries,” said Røttingen.

Norway’s vaccine agreement with the EU does not preclude it from receiving vaccines through Covax, he also noted.

Ulstein pointed out that Norway’s participation in the EU’s vaccine procurement scheme actually means that EU member states are giving up part of their own shares in the vaccines purchased by the EU to allow Norway to receive doses.

“As such, we can’t simultaneously take vaccines intended for the poorest countries in the world,” he said according to NTB’s report.

“I think most people would understand that’s a bit lacking in solidarity,” he added.

Some wealthy countries, such as the United States, have chosen to keep hold of all of their vaccines instead of allowing them to be exported them to other countries. 

On Monday they came under heavy criticism from the World Health Organisation which partly runs Covax. 

“The gap (access to vaccines between rich and poor countries) is getting more grotesque every day and the the unfair distribution are economic and epidemic plan’s for rich countries that are doomed to fail,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference on Monday. 

By February all 677,000 vaccines doses that Norway transferred had been delivered to poor countries.

The majority of the doses are of the AstraZeneca vaccine while the rest of the doses are of the Pfizer vaccine.

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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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