Denmark delays decision over use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

The Danish Health Authority has delayed a decision over whether it will use the Covid-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson until next week.

Denmark delays decision over use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine
Denmark is yet to decide whether to use the Covid-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Photo: Vincent West/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

A decision by the authority on whether it will also withdraw the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from the national Covid-19 programme, as it did with the vaccine from AstraZeneca, was scheduled to be made this week, but has been put back.

“We will hopefully hear next week from health authorities about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” health minister Magnus Heunicke said according to broadcaster DR.

“That also means that a vaccination calendar can be set, which we can use to see exactly how quickly and how” remaining coronavirus restrictions can be lifted, Heunicke added.

The J&J vaccine is yet to be used in Denmark after the company earlier this month announced it would delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe due to concerns over rare potential side effects detected in the United States.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) last week said it had concluded, based on initial investigations, a possible link between the J&J vaccine and rare cases of blood clots combined with low platelet levels.

The regulator recommended adding a warning to the vaccine’s product label and said the benefits of the one-dose shot outweigh its risks.

READ ALSO: European countries face slower vaccination as Johnson & Johnson delays rollout

The European rollout was recommenced following the EMA’s statement, with Johnson & Johnson agreeing to add a product warning on packaging as recommended by the regulator.

France and Italy are among countries to have begun using the US drug maker’s vaccine, but have limited its use to people over the ages of 55 and 60 respectively.

The United States has also reintroduced the vaccine to its inoculation programme after US authorities recommended lifting a pause on the jab, following a safety review.

The leader of the Danish Conservative party, Søren Pape Poulsen, said on Thursday he would accept a J&J vaccine regardless of the final decision by the country’s health authority.

“If the authorities don’t approve it, I’ll glad offer my arm and take it. When the Americans, the Danish Medicines Agency and the EMA have approved it, I find it hard to understand why we can’t approve it (for use),” Poulsen told DR.

“If a vaccine approved everywhere else can’t be (used) in Denmark, I need to take a breath,” he added.

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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.”