Why Denmark is leading EU in roll-out of Covid-19 vaccine

Denmark leads the EU in vaccinations against the novel coronavirus thanks to a swift and smooth roll-out, and even more people would have got the jab if it had more available doses.

Why Denmark is leading EU in roll-out of Covid-19 vaccine
Photo: Frank Cilius/Ritzau Scanpix

So far, 2.2 percent of Denmark's population of 5.8 million has been vaccinated since the campaign began on December 27th.

Unlike other countries which have, amid delivery concerns, set aside half their vaccine allotment to ensure patients get their second dose, the Scandinavian country has barrelled ahead and used up its first Pfizer-BioNTech doses.

“The government's clear position is that the moment the vaccines touch Danish soil is the moment they have to be used,” said Denmark's Social Democratic Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

With well-oiled logistics and a swift campaign in nursing homes — where almost all who wanted the vaccine have now received it — Denmark tops the EU in vaccinations, far ahead of Italy and Slovenia and at a pace almost three times higher than the EU average, according to data compiled by AFP.

As of Thursday, 129,170 people in Denmark had received their first jab.

With a robust welfare state, the country also attributes the strong start to its universal healthcare system, governed by easily-mobilised local regions.

“Our set-up makes it possible to have rapid distribution (of the vaccine) and we have a very good IT infrastructure which enables us to register every person who receives the vaccine,” Jens Lundgren, a University of Copenhagen professor who specialises in infectious diseases, told AFP.

Targeting care homes, where the injection is given on-site, has enabled the vaccination campaign to get off to a strong start, according to epidemiologist Lone Simonsen, a professor at the University of Roskilde.

To maximise the number of people getting their first dose, Denmark has, like several other countries, also authorised the second dose to be delayed by up to six weeks in some cases, instead of the recommended three.

The WHO has approved the move despite some reticence from the manufacturer.

In Roskilde, at the Gadstrup vaccination centre set up in a former military building, 75-year-old Mikael Jensen leaves with an appointment to receive his second dose in three weeks.

Considered at risk after a kidney transplant, he tells AFP he's “relieved” to have got the vaccine.

COMPARE: How fast are European countries vaccinating their populations?

Nurses here vaccinate one patient every 12 minutes, the doctor in charge of the centre, Kim Christiansen, said.

Trine Holgersen, head of the local Zealand healthcare services, said everyone in the region will be guaranteed their second dose on time. Zealand will begin administering second doses on Monday.

“It's in the freezer and we know exactly where to be, at what time, which person,” she said.

Nurses in Denmark have been able to squeeze six doses of vaccine out of each vial, instead of the expected five, which has also helped them speed things along.

Denmark's strategy is aimed at giving the first inoculations to frontline healthcare workers and those in risk groups.

It hopes to have all adult Danes who want the injection — around 80 percent, according to opinion polls — vaccinated by June.

“Our goal is to be able to vaccinate 100,000 Danes a day when we have enough vaccines,” the prime minister wrote in a recent Instagram post.

Denmark on Thursday began administering the new Moderna vaccine. For that one, the country has decided to set aside half of the doses.

In addition to potential supply problems, the vaccination rate may also slow down now as the remainder of people have to make their own way to a vaccination centre, as opposed to care home residents who received it in their home.

“We have the infrastructure but people have to go to the vaccination centre, so that could drastically slow down the statistics,” Lundgren noted.

Concerns are also rising in Denmark about the British variant of the novel coronavirus, reported to be more contagious.

So far more than 200 cases have been detected in the country.

“With the new variant, it's a race between its spread and the need to vaccinate,” said epidemiologist Simonsen.

In mainland Denmark, excluding Greenland and the Faroe Islands, 183,801 cases of Covid-19 and 1,623 deaths have been reported.


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IN NUMBERS: Has the Omicron Covid-19 wave peaked in Denmark?

The number of new Covid-19 infections fell on Saturday for the second day in a row, following a three-day plateau at the start of last week. Has the omicron wave peaked?

IN NUMBERS: Has the Omicron Covid-19 wave peaked in Denmark?
Graffiti in the Copenhagen hippy enclave of Christiania complaining of Omicron's impact on Christmas. Photo: Philip Davali/Scanpix

How many cases, hospitalisations and deaths are there in Denmark? 

Denmark registered 12,588 new cases in the 24 hours leading up to 2pm on Saturday, down from the 18,261 registered on in the day leading up to Friday at 2pm, which was itself a decline from the record 28,283 cases recorded on Wednesday. 

The cases were identified by a total of 174,517 PCR tests, bringing the positive percentage to 7.21 percent, down from the sky high rates of close to 12 percent seen in the first few days of January. 

The number of cases over the past seven days is lower than the week before in almost every municipality in Denmark, with only Vallensbæk, Aarhus, Holseterbro, Skanderborg, Hjørring, Vordingborg,  Ringkøbing, Kolding, Assens, Horsens, Thisted, and Langeland reporting rises. 

Hospitalisations have also started to fall, with some 730 patients being treated for Covid-10 on Saturday, down from 755 on Friday. On Tuesday, 794 were being treated for Covid-19 in Danish hospitals, the highest number since the peak of the 2020-21 winter wave.

The only marker which has not yet started to fall is the number of deaths, which tends to trail infections and hospitalisations. 

In the 24 hours leading up to 2pm on Saturday, Denmark registered 28 deaths with Covid-19, the highest daily number recorded since 20 January 2021, when 29 people died with Covid-19 (although Denmark’s deadliest day was the 19 January 2021, when 39 people died). 

How does Denmark compare to other countries in Europe? 

Over the last seven days, Denmark has had the highest Covid-19 case rate of any country in Europe bar Ireland. The number of new infections in the country has climbed steadily since the start of December, apart from a brief fall over Christmas. 

So does this mean the omicron wave has peaked? 

Maybe, although experts are not sure. 

“Of course, you can hope for that, but I’m not sure that is the case,” said Christian Wejse, head of the Department for Infectious Diseases at Aarhus University Hospital. “I think it is too early to conclude that the epidemic has peaked.”

He said that patients with the Omicron variant were being discharged more rapidly on average than had been the case with those who had the more dangerous Delta variant. 

“Many admissions are relatively short-lived, thankfully. This is because many do not become that il, and are largely hospitalized because they are suffering with something else. And if they are stable and do not need oxygen, then they are quickly discharged again.” 

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said during a visit to an event held by the Social Liberal party that the latest numbers made her even more optimistic about the coming month. 

“We have lower infection numbers and the number of hospitalisations is also plateauing,” she said. “I think we’re going to get through this winter pretty well, even if it will be a difficult time for a lot of people, and we are beginning to see the spring ahead of us, so I’m actually very optimistic.” 

She said that she had been encouraged by the fact that Omicron was a “visibly less dangerous variant if it is not allowed to explode.”