Norway has not stopped vaccination for over-65s

A Facebook post appearing in several countries, claims that Norway has stopped vaccination of persons over the age of 65. This is not correct. The post also makes undocumented claims of health staff refusing to take the vaccine.

Foto: Heiko Junge / NTB.

A meme photo making several startling claims about vaccines is shared by users on Facebook both in Norway and in other countries. The text in the photo is in English, and Faktisk.no have seen the contents shared in both Canada, the UK, Australia and Georgia.

This photo have been spread on Facebook in several countries. Screenshot from Facebook.

The Facebook post claims Norway, Switzerland and other countries, have stopped giving vaccines to persons older than 65, until more research is done. This is claimed to be due to «massive amounts of deaths in care homes».

For å lese artikkelen på norsk: Norge har ikke sluttet å gi vaksine til personer over 65 år

The meme photo also includes claims about a large share of health workers in several countries having refused to receive the vaccine. The text does not identify the vaccine that the health workers allegedly refused, but the context indicates that it is likely one or more of the vaccines against covid-19.

So, is it correct to say that Norway and other countries have stopped vaccination of over-65s? And is it correct that such a large share of doctors, nurses and other health care workers refuse to take the covid-19 vaccines?

No causal relationship between vaccines and deaths

First we will look at the claim involving Norway:

Norway, Switzerland and other countries have stopped giving vaccines to over 65s after massive amounts of deaths in care homes until more research is done.

The claim seems to stem from a mix of media reporting involving those countries.

This January the news of deaths in Norway among elderly people that had received the covid-19 vaccines spread world-wide. Faktisk.no, shortly after, wrote about how it was too early to conclude with any causal relationship between vaccines and the deaths.

Since then, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has concluded that the data did not show a link to vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine and that the cases do not raise a safety concern, including the reports from Norway of cases with deaths.

65+ still being vaccinated in Norway

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), as early as the 8th of January, emphasised that «severely frail patients or patients with a short remaining life expectancy must be assessed individually». The NIPH asked the healthcare professionals treating these patients to assess whether the benefit of vaccination outweighs the risk that the patients may not tolerate potential side effects.

This message was repeated when the reports of deaths coinciding in time with vaccinations were reported. The NIPH and the Norwegian Medicines Agency explained they could not exclude that common adverse reactions may have contributed to serious consequences for some of the frail patients.

It is still not correct that the vaccinations of persons over 65 have been stopped in Norway.

The order of priority in Norway has not been changed, and can be described as follows:

  1. Residents in nursing homes
  2. Age 85 years and above
  3. Age 75-84 years
  4. Age 65-74 years

A revision to the prioritisation of the vaccines is under consideration, but mostly due to a discussion on possible geographic re-prioritisation to areas hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic with many confirmed cases.

The fact that persons over the age of 65 still get vaccinated in Norway can also be seen clearly in the official statistics. The numbers on administered vaccine doses are dominated by people above the age of 75:

Vaccinations not stopped in Switzerland

The meme photo also claims that people above 65 are no longer being vaccinated in Switzerland. When looking at the media coverage of the immunization program in Switzerland, we see that the age of 65 is specifically mentioned in relation to one of the covid-19 vaccines – the AstraZeneca vaccine.

EU and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended and authorised the AstraZeneca vaccine in the end of January.

But several countries, including Norway, Germany and France, have chosen to not recommend the use of it for persons above the age of 65. This due to the fact that clinical trials had too few participants in these older age groups.

Due to these limitations, the AstraZeneca vaccine is currently used for health care workers and younger people in Norway.

The Swiss regulatory authority, SwissMedic, has not authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine at this time for any age groups – due to a demand for more data on the effectiveness among the elderly.

But this does not mean that Switzerland has stopped vaccination of people over the age of 65.

The Swiss authorities have authorized the vaccines from both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

Switzerland, as Norway and many other countries, have kept the elderly high on the order of priority for vaccination. At the top they put people 75 years old or older, people with specific chronic diseases involving the highest risk from covid-19 and residents in nursing homes. At the next tier they put people in the age group 65 to 74 years old.

As of 24th of February, the number of people administered with a vaccine dose in Switzerland had reached 750 000 – a 8,69% share of the Swiss population.

It is not correct to say that Norway and Switzerland have stopped vaccination of people over 65 years old. In Norway this group is not given the AstraZeneca vaccine, while the same vaccine is still not authorized for use in any age group in Switzerland so far.

95% accepted vaccination in the Netherlands

In the Facebook post with the meme photo this claim is presented about health care workers in the Netherlands:

89,000 doctors and nurses in Holland have refused the vaccine.

We have not been able to trace the origin of the claim regarding the number 89 000.

However, we find a similar claim presented with the number 87 000 – about how many nurses in the Netherlands who is said to have refused the vaccine. This claim has been shared on social media in several languages. It was also reported by an Indian website for nurses in December 2020.

According to the fact-checkers at Logically.ai this claim originates from a video showing a panel discussion among doctors openly skeptical of the covid-lockdowns. The video seems to depict a press conference from the World Doctor's Alliance, a group known for spreading misinformation about the pandemic.

Logically has rated the claim of 87 000 nurses refusing the vaccine as misleading. The Ukrainian fact checkers Voxcheck and Stopfake.org both rate the claim as false information.

The video from the World Doctor's Alliance was first published during the fall of 2020. It has been investigated by several other fact checkers – among them AFP and Health Feedback.

Faktisk.no has asked the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport in The Netherlands about the claim of 89 000 doctors and nurses refusing the vaccine. They do not recognize the figures at all.

– More than 95% of all the critical healthcare workers have responded positively and immediately to their vaccination invitation. The remaining 5 % mainly gave ‘being pregnant’ as the reason to wait with their vaccination, spokesperson Jona Bootsma at the Ministry responded to Faktisk.no by email.

Nothing seem to support a claim of 89 000 doctors and nurses refusing to take the vaccine in the Netherlands. According to the health authorities in the country 95% of the health care workers have accepted the vaccine.

US nursing home staff more sceptical

In the Facebook post a claim about American nurses is also presented:

60% of all nurses in America are refusing the vaccine.

The 60% number has been mentioned in several news stories in US media. On the 9th of February, senior vice president of pharmacy and health Rick Gates at the pharmacy chain Walgreens, stated to CNBC that about 60% of employees at long-term care facilities declined the vaccine shots.

Walgreens administer vaccines to residents and staff at thousands of long-term care facilities across the US. We do not know whether Gates’ statement on 60% refusal of vaccines is representative of all US nursing home staff.

In addition, the claim as spread on Facebook involves nurses in general, and not just staff at long-term care facilities as in the statement from the Walgreens executive Gates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff at long-term care facilities are more sceptical of the vaccines.

Several surveys show scepticism

The CDC also looked into how willing or hesitant health care professionals are to getting the vaccines in general.

In December 2020 they saw that 65% of the respondents said they were absolutely certain or likely they would take the vaccine. 35% answered that it was not likely they would take the vaccine.

Other reports on vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers the CDC references, show, among other things, that:

  • In October 2020, only 34% of the responding nurses said they would be willing to vaccinate against covid-19.
  • In December 2020, the answers showed that 29% of health workers were sceptical of taking the vaccine, and in January 2021 the answers showed that 28% wanted to wait for more information on safety and efficiency.
  • A study among staff at long-term care institutions in November 2020, showed 45% wanted to take the vaccine immediately, while 24% would consider it in the future.

Note that the studies show results for different groups of workers and different workplaces.

Faktisk.no have not found evidence that supports the claim that 60% of nurses in America are refusing the vaccine. However, several studies show significant vaccine hesitancy and scepticism, both among nurses and healthcare workers in general.

33% not vaccinated in nursing homes in the UK

The Facebook post also mentions the UK:

Around one third of nurses and care staff in the UK are refusing the vaccine.

The number a third has been reported in the British press several times lately.

On the 15th of February the health secretary Matt Hancock, told the BBC that a third of nursing home and home care staff in England had not taken the Covid-19 vaccine. The staff had gotten an offer to take the vaccine according to the UK government.

Analysis from the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust showed that around a third of the staff had not taken the vaccine by the 3rd of February. The management of the NHS Trust told the BBC that by the 15th of February three in four hospital staff had been vaccinated.

During a hearing in the British Parliament on the 24th of February the politicians got an update on the numbers. Professor Anthony Harnden from Oxford University told them only 66% of care home staff had taken the vaccine.

At hospitals more health workers have taken the vaccine in the UK. According to health authorities in England so far 88% of the staff with patient contact have taken the vaccine.

A third of staff at nursing homes and home care staff had not taken the vaccine by 75th of February. Among staff at hospitals the numbers are a bit higher.

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