Why has Sweden paused Moderna vaccinations for under-30s?

Sweden's Public Health Agency on Wednesday halted the use of the Moderna vaccine against Covid-19 in people born in 1991 or later.

Moderna vaccine injections
Sweden's Public Health Agency has paused the use of Moderna vaccines in under-30s. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The change is due to signs that the Moderna vaccine could be linked to an increased risk of rare side effects including heart inflammation in young people and especially young men, the agency explained in a statement.

“Data point to an increased incidence [of myocarditis and pericarditis, two types of heart inflammation] in connection with vaccination against Covid-19, mainly in adolescents and young adults and mainly in boys and men. For the individual, the risk of being affected is very small, it is a very rare side effect,” the statement said.

It continued: “New preliminary analyses from Swedish and Nordic data sources indicate that the connection is especially clear when it comes to Moderna’s vaccine Spikevax, especially after the second dose. The increase in risk is seen within four weeks after the vaccination, mainly within the first two weeks.”

Under-30s who have not yet received their vaccine are now being recommended Pfizer/Biontech rather than Moderna.

Around 81,000 people in this age group have received one dose of the Moderna vaccine, and at the moment the agency has decided not to offer them a second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine for the time being. 

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told TT that under-30s who have only received one dose will most likely have to wait “a few weeks longer” than planned for their second dose. The decision is currently valid until December 1st, with the agency planning to issue a new recommendation after this date.

The region of Gävle went a step further, announcing on Thursday that it would not be using the Moderna vaccine at all.

“We will not be using Moderna at all in our region,” vaccine coordinator Tina Mansson Söderlund told P4 Gävleborg radio, pointing to the “higher frequency of this rare side effect” as the reason.

She said that in Gävle, current plans are for most people who received a first dose of Moderna not to be given any second vaccine dose, due to the region’s assessment that a single dose offers sufficient protection. Older people, or those who received two Moderna doses and are due a booster shot, will receive Pfizer instead.

“Those who have been vaccinated recently with their first or second dose of Moderna’s vaccine should not worry because the risk [of serious side effects] is very small, but it is good to know which symptoms you need to be aware of,” Tegnell said in the agency’s statement.

The agency notes that patients affected by myocarditis and pericarditis usually recover quickly with no lasting consequences, but that it is important to be examined by a doctor in the event of any symptoms.

Symptoms to be aware of include:

  • tiredness and shortness of breath
  • irregular heartbeat and heart palpitations
  • fever and body pain
  • a feeling of pressure or heaviness in your chest
  • pain when breathing deeply
  • pain on the left hand side or in the middle of the chest

If you experience these symptoms, the agency’s advice is to contact your doctor.

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Sweden opens up fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine for over-80s

Sweden's Public Health Agency is now recommending a fourth vaccine dose for care home residents, recipients of at-home care, and over 80s, to be given at least four months after dose three.

Sweden opens up fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine for over-80s

Despite recently removing almost all Covid-19-related restrictions, the pandemic is still ongoing in Sweden, with the Public Health Agency describing the spread of infection in a press release as “intensive”.

There has also been an increase in the number of cases in groups of the population with an increased risk for serious illness, such as care home residents. 

In addition to this, the immune system’s ability to react to vaccinations and build up long-term protection against the virus becomes less effective with age.

In response to this, the Public Health Agency is now recommending that Swedish regions offer a second booster dose – representing a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine – to the following at-risk groups:

  • care home residents
  • recipients of at-home care
  • over 80s

Regions will be able to offer the dose four months after the first booster dose (dose three), at the earliest, starting from next week.

“A booster dose strengthens protection against the virus,” said state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell in a statement. “Therefore, we believe that people aged 80 and over will benefit from a second booster dose.”

First booster doses are available for over-18s in all Swedish regions. If you have not had yours yet and want to know how to book in your region, see The Local’s guide HERE.