Danish health minister says further Covid-19 vaccinations could ward off restrictions

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said on Friday that the government is prepared to take steps to prevent new restrictions should Denmark see a resurgence in Covid-19 cases later this year.

Health minister Magnus Heunicke
Health minister Magnus Heunicke said that a Covid-19 vaccination programme could be reintroduced in Denmark later this year should case numbers resurge. File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Authorities are currently making various plans for managing a Covid resurgence later in the year, Heunicke said on Friday at a parliamentary committee.

“We don’t know what it will be. It could be something like Omicron, a subvariant or a completely new variant,” he said.

“So we must have different scenarios for what exactly we will be dealing with,” he said.

Vaccines will be considered an important tool which authorities will use to help prevent new restrictions, the minister said.

In all scenarios, elderly segments of the population would receive a booster vaccination first, he said.

Denmark currently has no Covid-19 restrictions in place, having lifted most social and travel restrictions during the early part of the spring.

Authorities have also reduced the current risk assessment level for Covid-19 to the lowest possible level for the first time since the pandemic began. That means the level of alert for hospitals and other parts of the health service is reduced.

Nevertheless, infections with the virus are still recorded by the national infectious disease control agency, State Serum Institute (SSI) on a daily basis.

“So even though we now know a lot more about this disease than we knew two and a half years ago, there are also things we don’t know because it keeps attacking us with new variants,” Heunicke said.

Although infection numbers are expected to increase again after the summer, the minister said booster vaccinations in the form of third or fourth doses of a Covid-19 vaccine would not be offered to the public at the current time.

Denmark announced the suspension of its national Covid-19 vaccination programme in April.

“We must be sure that it’s the right time (to respond),” Heunicke said.

Plans for national responses to various scenarios are expected to be completed before parliament takes its summer vacation. Political parties will then be involved in finalisation of the plans.

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Who is eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine dose in Denmark and when?

Public health officials in Denmark say a low turnout for the second round of Covid booster shots — for most people, their fourth jab — has made them concerned that many don’t realise they’re eligible.

Who is eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine dose in Denmark and when?

 Danish authorities have hardly clear on whether to offer fourth Covid jabs and to whom, since the beginning of 2022.

In January, the government announced that fourth shots would be given to the very elderly and other high risk populations— but that decision was reversed just four weeks later and the fourth Covid dose program was ended.

At a June 22nd press conference, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced plans for a more general booster program in the autumn and added that the ‘particularly vulnerable’ would be eligible for new doses the following week. 

When the Covid vaccination program began in early 2021, Denmark estimated the number of ‘selected patients with particularly increased risk’ that should be prioritised for vaccination at 240,000. But in the month since Frederiksen’s announcement, only about 3,500 people have come in for a fourth jab. Experts say that’s in no small part over confusion as to who is ‘particularly vulnerable.’

Indeed, the Danish Health Authority website doesn’t appear to currently provide a list of conditions that qualify for a second booster and instead refers readers to their primary care provider. That’s unfortunate since even general practitioners are finding it hard to determine who the rules say can get a fourth shot, Danish broadcaster DR reports.

The failure to resolve the issue is putting many patients at risk, some public health experts worry. “With the spread we are seeing with Covid at the moment, I think the Health Authority needs to be very clear about who should get the fourth prick now and who should wait,” Torben Mogensen, chairman of the Lung Association, told DR. 

READ ALSO: Danish health minister says further Covid-19 vaccinations could ward off restriction

What we know for sure 

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women are already eligible for fourth doses
  • People with suppressed immune systems are already eligible 
  • Approximately September 15: fourth doses begin for people in care homes and among ‘particularly vulnerable’ elderly people 
  • October 1st: fourth doses begin for everyone 50 years of age and and over 

Your primary care provider (the one on your yellow card) can refer you for a vaccination appointment, as can doctors at hospitals. 

What factors will your doctor consider? 

Guidelines provided to doctors by the Danish Health Authority ask them to weigh the patient’s age, risk of serious course of illness if infected, their presumed immunity status based on recent infection, and their overall risk of infection based on their living conditions (strangely, crowded living conditions and living in a sparsely populated area both suggest you may need a booster shot). 

…and now for the riddles

In lieu of a list of conditions that might qualify a patient for an early fourth shot, doctors have been offered a series of ‘example patients’ that are eligible for a booster  under the new rules. 

  • 45-year-old woman with reduced immune system due to haematological cancer
  • 74-year-old man with severe obesity and heart failure, who has had recurring lower respiratory tract infections for the past six months and declining functional level
  • 65-year-old woman with severe obesity and diabetes with serious co-morbidities, e.g foot ulcers or chronic kidney failure
  • 82-year-old woman with rapid onset of functional loss (e.g. failing memory, reduced mobility and need for help with personal care) and beginning signs of malnutrition (eats too little, does not gain weight)
  • 23-year-old with cystic fibrosis with frequent pneumonia and hospitalisations
  • 50-year-old male with bowel cancer who has recently completed chemotherapy
  • 85-year-old man who lives with his children and grandchildren in a small home
  • 65-year-old woman who has been operated on for breast cancer and has diabetes, and who needs to travel to an area with high infection
  • 39-year-old resident of a social psychiatric residence, with heavy tobacco consumption, occasional alcohol overconsumption, overweight and in treatment with many different drugs

READ ALSO: Danish hospitals see rise in number of Covid patients 

It’s worth a call or message 

With a particularly nasty flu season on the horizon, public health experts say it’s worth a call, email, or message to your primary care provider if you have any reason to suspect you might be eligible for vaccination. 

“We know that infection rates have been rising both in Denmark and in Europe in recent weeks, and a new variant is on its way in,” Aarhus University professor emeritus of infectious diseases told DR.  “Then comes autumn, when we know that a respiratory virus spreads more than it does in summer. So there’s every reason to get that fourth jab if you’re in the vulnerable groups and it’s been more than six months since you had your third.”