ONLY FIVE VACCINES FOR SVALBARD: First shipment of COVID-19 shots arrives next week, hospital has ‘good overview’ of who gets them to ‘test our plans’; next shipment three weeks later

firstcovidvaccines

Svalbard will get “only about five” COVID-19 vaccines when the first shipment arrives in the archipelago next week and officials at Longyearbyen Hospital have a pretty good idea who will get them, according to a statement by the city.

The next shipment of vaccines is scheduled three weeks later.

“This provides an opportunity to test the distribution system and we get to test our plans with relatively few doses,” Knut Selmer, the infection control doctor at Longyearbyen Hospital, said in a prepared statement. He said the hospital will contact the individuals selected.

The vaccines arrived in Norway last week and Svalbard, which has about 2,900 residents, has the same classification as a municipality on the mainland in terms of distribution. However, central government officials have stated Oslo is getting first priority in terms of number of doses due to the large number of cases there.

Svalbard remains among fewer than 10 “countries” (as defined by the World Health Organization) with no diagnosed COVID-19 cases, due largely to extreme precautions enacted because of the archipelago’s remoteness and lack of medical facilities. The speed the virus can spread in a confined polar environment was in evidence last week when Antarctica lost its distinction as the only COVID-free continent when 36 cases were diagnosed at a Chilean research station there.

“A distribution key has been created that assigns the number of doses at the municipal level on the basis of the number of people in the risk groups in the municipality in question,” the city’s statement notes. “In the beginning, the distribution key will be based on the number of people 65 years and older, because age is by far the biggest risk factor.”

While the hope is to ship new vaccines weekly, “there will be very few doses for the smallest municipalities.”

Accordingly, Selmer said people under 65 should wait to contact the hospital about scheduling a vaccination since “there will be plenty of time for that in 2021.”

Local officials are responsible for their distribution plan, which in Svalbard emphasizes age primarily, followed by those 18-64 with high-risk conditions. The priority list is:

• Age 85 years and older
• Age 75-84 years
• Age 65-74 years and highest at-risk people 18-64 years
• Age 55-64 years with underlying disease/condition
• Age 45-54 years with underlying disease/condition
• Age 18-44 years with underlying disease/condition
• Age 55-64 years

Those scheduling an appointment can contact the hospital at  7902 4200 and longyearbyen@unn.no.