Norway will offer the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine to volunteers under strict conditions from mid-July, the government said Wednesday, flouting the advice of various health authorities who say the risks outweigh the benefits.
The Nordic country, which has dropped the AstraZeneca jab from its vaccination programme amid concerns about rare but severe blood clots, had also suspended the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over similar concerns earlier this year.
But the government said on May 12 that it planned to offer the Johnson & Johnson single-dose jab to volunteers.
On Wednesday, it detailed the strict conditions that would apply to those who, after a medical consultation, want to be vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson jab as of June 15.
Only certain categories of people will qualify, including those who need to travel to countries where the pandemic is raging, those who for various reasons cannot wait their turn to receive the other available vaccines, and those who have loved ones suffering from severe forms of cancer.
“The patient has the right to weigh in on the decision but cannot demand to receive the vaccine. Doctors will have the final say,” Health Minister Bent Hoie told reporters at a press conference.
Neighbouring Denmark has meanwhile reserved both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson inoculations for volunteers, even though both have been approved by the European medicines watchdog EMA and the World Health Organization has recommended their use.
While Norway’s government has followed the main recommendations regarding the vaccines issued by a panel of experts in May, Wednesday’s announcement goes against the advice of several national institutions, such as the Norwegian Directorate of Health, the Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Medical Association.
They have argued that the pandemic is under control in Norway and that the vaccination campaign is progressing quickly enough with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that the country doesn’t need to resort to other vaccines which may carry a risk of severe side effects.
“For the most part, the risk of side effects with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be greater than the benefits, given the current situation in Norway,” the head of the Directorate of Health, Bjorn Guldvog, told reporters.
Norway has one of the lowest Covid incidence rates in Europe, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
More than 1.85 million people in the country of 5.4 million have received a first vaccine dose and 1.21 million are fully vaccinated.
Authorities hope to have offered all adults their first dose by early August.