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Norway drops AstraZeneca vaccine, J&J remains on hold

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By Terje Solsvik and Nerijus Adomaitis

OSLO (Reuters) -Norway will not resume use of the COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca, and a decision on whether to include Johnson & Johnson shots in its mass inoculation scheme remains on hold, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Wednesday.

A government-appointed commission had recommended that both vaccines be excluded from Norway’s programme due to the risk of rare but harmful side-effects.

Authorities on March 11 suspended the AstraZeneca rollout after a small number of inoculated people, some of whom later died, were hospitalised for a combination of blood clots, bleeding and a low platelet count.

A study in Denmark and Norway found slightly increased rates of blood clots among people who have had a first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, including in the brain, compared with expected rates in the general population.

The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine has not been used in Norway so far despite European Medicines Agency (EMA) approval.

On May 10, a public panel of medical, legal and other experts said the two vaccines should not be offered as part of the national inoculation scheme, although volunteers should be allowed to take them.

“The government has decided that the AstraZeneca vaccine will not be used in Norway, not even for volunteers,” Solberg said.

The government will build a stockpile of J&J shots, primarily as an emergency backup, while AstraZeneca doses will likely be redistributed, either to European Union countries or through the global Covax scheme, Solberg said.

Norway currently uses only vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, and expects all adults to be offered at least one dose of either by late July.

One third of Norwegian adults have so far received the first of two doses.

Volunteers keen to speed up their vaccination will be allowed to take the J&J shot, when the guidelines for such use are approved, but AstraZeneca shot will be excluded completely, the health ministry said.

Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca were not immediately available for comment.

(Editing by Gwladys Fouche and by John Stonestreet)

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