Norway

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.

Convergence in Excess Mortality in Western Europe

Are a certain number of Covid deaths more-or-less unavoidable? Or is it possible to not merely ‘crush the curve’ of mortality, but to prevent it from ever rising in the first place?

It’s clear from excess mortality data that some countries have ‘done’ substantially better than others, although how much this has to do with policy – let alone lockdowns – remains to be seen. (It could be culture or pre-existing immunity.)

For example, I’ve argued that early border controls are what allowed geographically peripheral state like Norway and New Zealand to escape the first wave, and shield their elderly populations until such time as vaccines and better treatments became available.

On the other hand, the vaccines don’t seem to be as effective at preventing death as originally claimed, with several countries witnessing sizeable upticks in excess mortality even after vaccinating the vast majority of their elderly populations.

Consider the chart below, which shows cumulative excess mortality since the start of the pandemic for every country in Western Europe. The exact definition of ‘cumulative excess mortality’ is given below the title.

The Countries That, Like the U.K., Have Ditched Covid Travel Rules

As the U.K. ends its remaining Covid travel rules and restrictions, the Telegraph takes a look at other countries that got there first and to where U.K. citizens can now travel in the normal pre-pandemic way (just be sure to pick an airline and airport without mask requirements).

The U.K. and its airlines are not alone in peeling back the layers of Covid bureaucracy. While the vast majority of countries have some form of Covid red tape in place, from outright border closures (China, Japan) to vaccine certificates (Italy, Greece) to tests the day before travel (USA), there are five nations – all within a three-and-a-half hour flight from London – which have scrapped all Covid measures.

The first to do so was Norway. On February 12th this year, our Nordic neighbours lifted all Covid restrictions (although some do remain in the Arctic exclave of Svalbard). Since British Airways operates flights to Oslo from London Heathrow, this means that an entirely restriction- and mask-free holiday is possible. If you test positive while in Norway, you will be advised to stay at home, although as in the U.K., this is a recommendation and not the law.

Further north, Iceland has also dropped all of its restrictions. On February 25th, Iceland announced that all visitors are welcome regardless of vaccination status, with no obligation to take a PCR test to board a plane there, and no locator forms. British Airways operates flights from London Heathrow to Reykjavik, and maskless Jet2 run services to Iceland from U.K. airports, too, some of which (like Manchester) do not have mandatory mask rules in place.

Closer to home, Ireland dropped almost all of its legal Covid restrictions on February 28th. However, the Irish public health bodies still recommend people wear face masks on public transport, so you might see some remnants of the pandemic while out and about. Again, British Airways operates flights from Heathrow to Dublin, paving the way for an entirely hassle-free holiday.

On the Continent, there are two countries that have dropped all Covid restrictions. Hungary dropped its vaccination requirement, Covid certificates and face mask rules on March 7th. You can fly in from Heathrow with British Airways, meaning an entirely mask-free holiday. You can also fly to Budapest with Jet2, although these are via Leeds Bradford which still demands a face covering to enter the airport, though this could change by the time you fly. Romania, too, has dropped all Covid requirements on March 9th, and British Airways operates direct flights from London Heathrow.

Some destinations are close to making the cut for the restriction-free league of nations. As of February 9th, Sweden has been without any domestic Covid rules, as it was for much of the pandemic, although it still has a vaccination entry requirement in place. Slovenia also dropped most Covid regulations on February 21st, although you still need to wear face masks in some public spaces and complete a Passenger Locator Form on entry. Mexico, too, has no vaccination or testing requirements, but you must register your arrival on the Mexico Vuela Seguro Platform. Our list of the 22 countries that unvaccinated people can visit is a good starting point, if you are looking for a hassle-free holiday.

Worth reading in full.

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.

Norway Study Finds ZERO Vaccine Effectiveness Against Death for Covid Hospital Patients

A new pre-print study from Norway looking at differences in outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated hospital patients has found that being vaccinated makes zero difference to the risk of dying once hospitalised for COVID-19.

“There was no difference in the adjusted odds of in-hospital death between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients in any age group,” the researchers write. They also observed no difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated in the length of hospital stay for patients not admitted to ICU. These findings are adjusted for age and other risk factors so are not simply due to the vaccinated being older or at higher risk (though, as always, the validity of the adjustments may be questioned). The findings also only include patients admitted primarily due to Covid, so aren’t confounded by patients admitted for other reasons who also tested positive at some point.

The researchers did however find that vaccinated patients aged 18-79 had “43% lower odds of ICU admission” and an estimated 26% shorter hospital stay than unvaccinated patients.

It is curious that vaccinated patients were 43% less likely to need ICU but no less likely to die. Did the antibodies from the vaccines just mean that those who were going to fight it off did so a bit more quickly and easily, but the vaccine antibodies weren’t actually able to save anyone who wasn’t going to survive anyway? That appears to be the researchers’ conclusion:

Our results suggest that once hospitalised the risk of death among vaccinated and unvaccinated patients in Norway is similar. However, for survivors the disease trajectory is milder in vaccinated patients, with reduced need for hospital care and organ support.

Norway Ends Lockdown After 561 Days of “Toughest Measures” in Peacetime

Mass celebrations and street brawls followed Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s lifting of all lockdown measures – including the need to prove your vaccination status – at 4pm on Saturday, having given less than 24 hours’ notice. Despite urging continued vaccine uptake, the PM insisted the country would not implement strict Covid measures “unless they are professionally justified”. MailOnline has the story.

The Prime Minister’s unexpected unlocking kicked off boozy celebrations the following afternoon which lasted late into Saturday night, with an impromptu rave in Stavanger, a mass brawl in Tønsberg and no less [sic] than 50 fights reported to police in Oslo.

Neither vaccination status nor a negative test result was required for any venue, leading to blockbusting queues outside nightclubs and restaurants packed with dinner reservations as people returned to their favourite hangouts in droves.

Queues for the clubs in Trondheim were so long that several people fainted while waiting to get inside.

Police in the city reported a generally good-natured atmosphere, with revellers singing the national anthem in the streets.

In Tønsberg, police were called after a group of around 10 young men started scrapping outside a nightclub near the pier. Fortunately nobody was seriously injured and the police arrested a 20 year-old man. 

The chaos on the streets provoked an angry response from some, including nightclub manager Johan Hoeeg Haanes in Oslo, who said the Prime Minister could have given more warning.

“That’s exactly what I predicted would happen,” he told the VG newspaper. “It was a life-threatening situation in the city because they [the Government] didn’t give us at least a few days advance notice. This was a dangerous situation, as police said all places were packed.”  

However, others were grateful to be getting back to business despite the challenges for staff.

Worth reading in full.

Norway to Introduce Covid Vaccine Passports – Will Britain Follow Suit?

Norway is the latest country to announce that it will introduce domestic Covid vaccine passports. Reuters reports:

Norway will introduce verifiable vaccine certificates from early June, allowing holders to use them for admittance to events held in Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Wednesday.

Around a quarter of Norway’s population has so far received a first dose of a vaccine against Covid, while 6.8% has received two doses.

In Hong Kong, a Government mobile app is being used to enable vaccinated people to visit bars and nightclubs – or, rather, to prevent unvaccinated people from doing the same. At restaurants, unvaccinated people must sit in designated areas, away from those who have received a vaccine. Likewise in Germany, people who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid (as proved by some form of certification) will soon be permitted to engage in certain activities from which others will be barred.

Will the British Government follow suit, as it did after Italy introduced its first lockdown last February? The voices of those thousands who protested against the introduction of vaccine passports in London last month might not have been listened to, but will that of the SAGE psychologist who said on Tuesday that such a scheme could lead to people refusing to get vaccinated against Covid?

We already know that a number of “anti-Covid” measures – such as mask-wearing and caps on numbers attending large events – are likely to stay in place beyond the “end” of lockdown. The Government is said to have told football’s UEFA that crowd sizes at upcoming events will be limited to 45,000. How likely is it that these 45,000 people will have to show proof a Covid status certificate on entry to prove they don’t have Covid? MailOnline reports that the potential use of domestic vaccine passports remains unclear:

Covid vaccine passports have already been confirmed for when foreign travel resumes on May 17th but exactly how they’ll be deployed domestically remains unknown.

The PM has ruled out using them for going to the pub or supermarket but the Government is currently trialling a similar system for larger events such as concerts, sports matches and club nights.

Stop Press: The NHS mobile app, which is in line to be used as a vaccine passport for overseas travel, may not be ready in time for when holiday restrictions (partially) ease on May 17th, according to Metro.

“We Have to Compare Sweden to Its Neighbours” Isn’t a Convincing Argument

In a recent post on Lockdown Sceptics, I argued that the case for lockdown basically collapsed in May of 2020, when Sweden’s epidemic began to retreat. Sweden was the only major Western country that didn’t lockdown in 2020, yet it saw age-adjusted excess mortality up to week 51 of just 1.7% – below the European average.

A common reply is that, although Sweden did better than the European average, it did worse than its neighbours. Here its neighbours are taken to be the other Nordic countries: Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland. Looking at age-adjusted excess mortality, it’s true that the other Nordics did better than Sweden. All four saw negative excess mortality up to week 51.

Does this mean lockdown sceptics are wrong to cite Sweden as evidence that the benefits of lockdowns are vastly overstated? No, I don’t believe it does.

First, the economist Daniel Klein and his colleagues have identified 15 different factors that may account for the higher death toll in Sweden as compared to the other Nordics. These include the greater number of frail elderly people alive at the start of 2020 (the ‘dry tinder’ effect); the larger immigrant population; and the lack of adequate protection for care home residents in the early weeks of the pandemic. 

Second, as the researcher Philippe Lemoine has pointed out, the epidemic was already more advanced in Sweden by the time most European countries introduced lockdowns and social distancing. The other Nordic countries therefore had a head start in responding to the deadly first wave. This is particularly important because, when the first wave struck, the best ways of treating COVID-19 were not yet well understood.

I would add that, with the exception of Denmark (which saw a moderate second wave), the other Nordics are small, geographically peripheral countries for which a containment strategy was actually workable. As I’ve noted in Quillette, all the Western countries that have managed to keep their COVID-19 death rates low (Norway, Cyprus, Australia, etc.) benefited from pre-existing geographical advantages. And all imposed strict border controls at the start (something the UK Government’s scientific advisers cautioned against).

Third, as the legal scholar Paul Yowell has argued, the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) are similar to the Nordics in terms of climate and population density, and once you include them in the comparison, Sweden no longer stands out. Lithuania actually had higher age-adjusted excess mortality than Sweden last year, despite imposing a strict winter lockdown.

Finally, as Yowell also points out, the ratio of Sweden’s COVID-19 death rate to Denmark’s isn’t that much higher than the ratio of Denmark’s to Finland’s. And this is despite the fact that Denmark has taken a more restrictive approach than Finland. One could therefore take the comparison between those two countries as evidence against the efficacy of lockdowns.

What’s more, this exercise could be repeated with other pairs or trios. For example, despite taking a slightly less restrictive approach than Spain and Italy, France has reported fewer deaths from COVID-19 (as well as lower excess mortality). Of course, these kinds of comparisons don’t tell us very much. But that’s the point. We shouldn’t only compare a country to its immediate neighbours.

And when researchers have analysed European countries and US states in a systematic way, they haven’t found evidence that lockdowns substantially reduce deaths from COVID-19.

Three Norwegian Health Workers in Hospital with “Unusual” Symptoms After Receiving AstraZeneca Jab

Concerns about the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine have intensified following reports of three Norwegian health workers suffering from blood clots and a low count of blood platelets after receiving the jab. Reuters has the story.

Three health workers in Norway who recently received the AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid are being treated in hospital for bleeding, blood clots and a low count of blood platelets, Norwegian health authorities said on Saturday.

Norway halted on Thursday the rollout of that vaccine, following a similar move by Denmark. Iceland later followed suit.

“We do not know if the cases are linked to the vaccine,” Sigurd Hortemo, a senior doctor at the Norwegian Medicines Agency told a news conference held jointly with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

All three individuals were under the age of 50.

The European medicine regulator EMA would investigate the three incidents, Hortemo added.

“They have very unusual symptoms: bleeding, blood clots and a low count of blood platelets,” Steinar Madsen, Medical Director at the Norwegian Medicines Agency told broadcaster NRK.

“They are quite sick…We take this very seriously,” he said, adding authorities had received notification of the cases on Saturday.

AstraZeneca was not immediately available for comment.

A number of European countries have halted the rollout of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine following reports of negative side effects relating to blood clots. AstraZeneca has highlighted that there have been “no confirmed serious adverse events associated with the vaccine”, but is supportive of ongoing investigations.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Ireland has temporarily halted its use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab following the above reports of blood clots in vaccinated people.