Denmark Suspends Covid Vaccinations

Denmark has become the first country to suspend its Covid vaccination programme as its health authority says the virus has been brought under control. The Telegraph has the story.

The Danish Health Authority noted the high levels of vaccination, a drop in the number of new infections, and stabilising hospitalisation rates as contributing factors to the decision to halt the national immunisation drive. 

Denmark’s Government became the first EU country to remove all pandemic-related domestic restrictions on February 1st, when it announced the virus was no longer considered a critical threat.

About 81% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants are fully vaccinated with two doses of the vaccine, and a further 62% have received a booster jab.

The Government will no longer issue vaccination invitations after May 15th but health officials expect to resume the programme after the summer.

Bolette Soborg said: “We plan to reopen the vaccination programme in the autumn. This will be preceded by a thorough professional assessment of who and when to vaccinate and with which vaccines.”

Encouraging development in the slow walk back to normality.

Worth reading in full.

Covid Vaccines Increase Risk of Severe Heart Inflammation Up to 120-Fold, Major Study Finds

Covid vaccination increases the risk of severe heart inflammation up to 120-fold, a major study from Scandinavia published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has found.

The study looked at over 23 million patient records covering the over-12s populations of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden from the start of the vaccine rollout in December 2020 to October 5th 2021.

For young males aged 16-24 years within 28 days of a second dose the study found severe myocarditis (requiring inpatient hospital admission) around five times more common after Pfizer and 14 times more common after Moderna. This corresponded to six events per 100,000 people after Pfizer and 18 events per 100,000 after Moderna. A second dose of Moderna given after a first dose of Pfizer came with even higher risk: a 36-fold increased risk, corresponding to 27 events per 100,000 people. The Moderna vaccine has three times the dose of mRNA of the Pfizer vaccine, which the authors suggest lies behind the increased risk.

Omicron: The Phantom Covid Wave

In most countries, reported infections have hit record highs during the Omicron wave, smashing previous records.

Fortunately, the variant has turned out to be up to 90% milder than the previous Delta variant, so the large outbreaks have not led to overwhelmed hospitals or heavy death tolls. Nonetheless, many countries have seen substantial waves of Covid deaths, notably Denmark, but also South Africa (where the deaths have continued to climb despite reported infections dropping off since mid-December), Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Norway (among others, including America).

Why Are Deaths in Highly-Vaccinated Denmark Approaching a Record High?

Denmark has become a standout sceptical hero of late, having lifted all restrictions at the start of the month and reclassified Covid as no longer “an infection critical to society”. The Government has even put out a fact check to counter misinformation about its approach – the right kind of fact check, countering actual misinformation.

The Danish shift in strategy was all the more remarkable in that it came at a time when reported infections and deaths in the country were at or close to an all-time high. Infections have since plateaued, underlining that it was the right move. However, given that the near-record deaths have come two years in and despite high levels of vaccination, it is worth digging into the data to see if there’s anything more they can tell us.

U.K. and Denmark (OWID)

The first thing that stands out is how high hospital admissions are, though as the Government says, many of these will be incidental admissions or mild cases. In addition, while hospital admissions are much higher in Denmark than the U.K., the number of patients in hospital is around the same (see below, plus the admissions (above) appear to be peaking), which presumably reflects mild cases with short stays.

Norway Ends Covid Restrictions Including Self-Isolation Requirement Despite Omicron Surge

Norway scrapped almost all remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday morning, doing away with its self-isolation and face mask requirements, ending social distancing, and limiting testing to those with symptoms, despite being in the middle of its Omicron surge, which has not yet begun to fall. The Local has the story.

“The one-metre rule is disappearing. We are taking away the recommendation on social distancing,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told reporters at a press conference.

“Now we can now socialise like we did before, in nightlife, at cultural events and other social occasions. And on the way to and from work on buses, trains and ferries,” he said.

Norway’s decision to lift restrictions comes four days after Sweden lifted its restrictions on Wednesday, and twelve days after Denmark did on February 1st. 

Støre put the change in restrictions to the shift in infections towards the milder Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. 

“We can ease the restrictions because Omicron does not cause as serious disease as previous variants. Even though the infection rate is rising, the proportion who end up in hospital is low. We are well protected with the vaccine,” he said. “We can treat COVID-19 like other diseases.” 

Among the changes, which apply from 10am on Saturday morning, are:  

• The one-metre rule is abolished 
• The requirement to wear face masks is abolished 
• Only adults with symptoms are now advised to get tested for COVID-19 
• The requirement to self-isolate for four days has been downgraded to a recommendation
• Kindergarten children and school pupils should stay home if ill, but can return after one fever-free day 
• All remaining requirements to show a negative test on arrival at the Norwegian border have been scrapped

Those who are unable or unwilling to get vaccinated and those in vulnerable groups are still recommended to wear face masks. 

Under the new testing requirements, those who test positive using an antigen or lateral flow test at home are asked to register the positive test in their local municipality’s infection tracking system. 

Gahr Støre stressed however that “the pandemic is not over”, and advised unvaccinated people and those in risk groups to continue practising social distancing and wear masks where social distancing is not possible.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said the country had yet to see the peak of the Omicron surge, but it was expected soon.

The agency’s director Camilla Stoltenberg told reporters the number of Covid hospitalisations had risen by 40% in the past week.

Deaths 9% Below Average – When Will The Government Declare the Pandemic Over?

Deaths in the most recent week for which data are available were 9.3% below the five-year average in England and Wales, prompting questions of why in such a mild winter the Government is being slow to join countries like Denmark in reclassifying COVID-19, repealing pandemic laws and lifting the state of emergency.

Figures from the ONS released today show that in the week ending January 28th 2022, there were 1,269 fewer deaths registered in England and Wales compared to the five-year average, which is 9.3% lower. This figure uses data from 2016-19 and 2021 as the five-year average, missing out 2020 as a pandemic year. However, deaths in January 2021 were very high, so this skews the five-year average upwards. Nonetheless, compared with the 2015 to 2019 five-year average, deaths in England and Wales were still 2.8% below average (359 fewer deaths).

The figures also show that almost a third of Covid deaths in the most recent week did not have COVID-19 recorded as underlying cause on the death certificate. Of the 1,385 deaths involving COVID-19, 71.2% (986 deaths) had Covid recorded as the underlying cause of death (compared with 72.9% in the previous week). This means 28.8% of deaths officially counted as Covid deaths were registered as from another underlying cause.

Reflecting the low mortality, excess deaths in hospitals and care homes were running well below average, at 17.9% and 20.1% below respectively. However, deaths in private homes continue to run high, being 17.8% (557 deaths) above the five-year average. While some of this may be displacement from hospitals and care homes, with people continuing to avoid them, the full circumstances around this ongoing issue need to be properly investigated.

Sweden to End Restrictions as Health Agency Declares COVID-19 “No Longer a Danger to Society”

Sweden is to lift almost all its Covid restrictions, the Government has announced.

The country, famed for refusing to impose a lockdown, ban gatherings or close schools and businesses in spring 2020, has become one of the stricter countries for Covid restrictions in recent months. But now the Government has announced that almost all its current restrictions will be removed on Wednesday, February 9th.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said:

The pandemic is not over, but is entering a completely new phase. We are nearing the point for Sweden to open up again…

There are multiple international studies of a milder illness, and the data we have from Sweden paints the same picture. The rate of vaccination in Sweden has been high in recent weeks, this means we can open up society, at least for all who have been vaccinated.

The comment “at least for all who have been vaccinated” is ominous, but I am told by contacts in the country that there are “no checks anywhere, so nobody knows if you’re actually vaccinated or not in public settings”.

The announcement comes as the Public Health Agency said COVID-19 should no longer be classified as an illness presenting a danger to society. The agency has sent a request to the Government to reclassify the illness, and Health Minister Lena Hallengren said this could be approved by the end of March.

Ministers do not appear to be fully signed up to this idea yet, however, as Hallengren said that “in order to prevent a new wave, the return to work and school [university] should occur successively”. If the disease is no longer a danger to society, why worry about a new wave?

Here is a list of the restrictions currently in force that will be removed next week – the most depressing aspect of which is how numerous and petty they are. Poor Sweden, how far you have fallen from being our sceptical hero! Notably absent from the press conference was State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who had doggedly stuck to pre-Covid evidence-based protocols rather than join in the panic. Despite what the Prime Minister said, the list appears to include the lifting of most of the vaccine passport requirements. The restrictions to be lifted are:

Panic Over? Finland to Lift All Covid Restrictions Despite Being in Deadliest Phase of Pandemic

Finland is to remove all Covid restrictions in February, Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced on Monday. Yle News has more.

Following decisions reached last week, some Covid-related restrictions are to be eased this week.

Starting on Tuesday, February 1st, establishments that primarily serve food will be allowed to stay open until 9pm. But, establishments that mainly serve alcoholic beverages will still be required to stop alcohol sales at 5pm and shut down for the day at 6pm.

Restaurants will be able to retain the right to require Covid passes from customers as a condition of admission. On the other hand, use of the passes will not exempt restaurants from restrictions on alcohol sales and opening hours, at least until mid-February.

Public gyms and swimming pools in the Uusimaa region will also be permitted to operate starting on Tuesday.

Starting on Tuesday, regulations at Finland’s borders for passengers arriving from Schengen Area countries as well as non-Schengen EU member states will be lifted.

It follows Denmark’s move to repeal all pandemic laws as of February 1st and return to “life as we knew it“, having determined COVID-19 is no longer “a threatening disease for society”. The question is, why is Finland going slowly, if it, too, has determined the pandemic is over? The extent to which Finland follows through with full repeal will become clear in the coming weeks.

Perhaps the slower place is because Finland is currently experiencing some of its highest levels of infections, hospitalisations and deaths to date. Test positivity is at its highest, though appears to have stopped rising.

Sweden Rejects Covid Vaccines For 5-11 Year-Olds: “We Don’t See Any Clear Benefit”

Sweden has decided against authorising Covid vaccines for children aged 5-11, the Health Agency said today, arguing the benefits do not outweigh the risks. Reuters has the story.

Sweden has decided against recommending COVID vaccines for kids aged 5-11, the Health Agency said on Thursday, arguing that the benefits did not outweigh the risks.

“With the knowledge we have today, with a low risk for serious disease for kids, we don’t see any clear benefit with vaccinating them,” Health Agency official Britta Bjorkholm told a news conference.

She added that the decision could be revisited if the research changed or if a new variant changed the pandemic. Kids in high-risk groups can already get the vaccine.

It raises the question: Do the benefits really outweigh the risks for teenagers as well?

Sweden, like many countries, is currently reporting record infections, though this is not translating into pressure on hospitals or high numbers of deaths. Unlike neighbouring Denmark, which is to lift its winter measures, the Swedish Government yesterday extended restrictions, including a restaurant curfew and attendance limits for indoor venues, for two weeks but said it hoped to remove them on February 9th.

Worth reading in full.

Denmark Ends All Pandemic Restrictions in EU First

Denmark is to lift all remaining pandemic restrictions in the next few days, despite rising reported infections, as Omicron hospital admissions and deaths remain stable and with high rates of vaccination – the first EU country to do so. Politico has more.

“Tonight we can … find the smile again. We have incredibly good news, we can now remove the last coronavirus restrictions in Denmark,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a press conference, following recommendations from the Epidemic Commission and with all the main political parties’ support. The last restrictions will be dropped on February 1st.

The announcement comes as a new subvariant of Omicron, BA.2, is gaining a foothold in Denmark and driving infections up, with 46,000 new COVID-19 cases recorded on Wednesday.

“Recent weeks have seen very high infection rates, in fact the highest in the entire pandemic,” Frederiksen said. “Therefore, it may seem strange and paradoxical that we are now ready to let go of the restrictions.” 

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke pointed to the decoupling of infections and serious disease, which he attributed to the high rates of vaccination – though this also happened in South Africa, where vaccination rates are much lower, so is presumably also due to the reduced virulence of the strain.

Ross Clark in the Spectator notes that as of February 1st COVID-19 will no longer be classified by the country as a ‘socially critical disease’ and the legal framework for the restrictions is also being lifted, removing the Government’s power to impose further measures without new legislation.

They beat you to it, Boris – time to get a wriggle on.

Worth reading in full.