Norway has registered a total of twenty-nine (29) deaths among people over the age of 75 who’ve had their first COVID-19 vaccination shot.
Meanwhile, the Australian government who has an agreement for 10 million of the Pfizer jabs is urgently seeking advice from Norway after reports of up to 29 people died after receiving the Pfizer vaccination.
The vaccination is expected to commence in February for Australia.
In Norway, about 42,000 people have been given at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine since the vaccination drive began on December 27, 2020 focusing on those considered most at risk to contract the virus including the elderly.
However, the Scandinavian country expressed increasing concern about the safety of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine on elderly people with serious underlying health conditions after deaths went up to 29 on Saturday.
According to Pfizer, it is investigating the deaths along with BioNTech and the NIPH and the agency has found that “the number of incidents so far is not alarming, and in line with expectations.”(Bloomberg)
Earlier, the age group thought to be in the danger zone was above 80, but a fresh six deaths on Saturday further lowered it to 75 and also raised questions over which groups to target in national inoculation programme.
According to Norwegian Medicines Agency (NMA), the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech is the only one available in Norway and “all deaths are seen to be linked to it”.
The NMA wrote to news agency Bloomberg and confirmed that while most people have experienced the expected side effects of the vaccine, 13 deaths have been assessed and another 16 are being looked at for having been caused due to it.
“There are 13 deaths that have been assessed, and we are aware of another 16 deaths that are currently being assessed,” the agency said, adding that all the reported deaths related to “elderly people with serious basic disorders”.
The agency listed fever and nausea as side effects which “may have led to the deaths of some frail patients,” Sigurd Hortemo of the Norwegian Medicines Agency said in the agency’s first report of the side effects.
“We are not alarmed by this. It is quite clear that these vaccines have very little risk, with a small exception for the frailest patients,” Steinar Madsen, medical director with the agency, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
“Doctors must now carefully consider who should be vaccinated. Those who are very frail and at the very end of life can be vaccinated after an individual assessment,” he added.
In its report, the Norwegian Medicines Agency said that 21 women and eight men had side effects. Beside those who died, the agency said nine had serious side effects without a fatal consequence and seven had less serious side effects. The nine patients had allergic reactions, strong discomfort and severe fever while the less serious side effects included severe pain at the injection site.
The United Kingdom and the United States have also reported a number of cases of side effects that had fatalities. Officials around the world expect deaths and other severe side effects to be reported after any mass vaccination campaign. However, determining the underlying cause of deaths may be a potential challenge.
Norway has seen 58,445 cases and reported 517 deaths since the pandemic.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, based on evidence from clinical trials, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people without evidence of previous infection.
In the United States, authorities reported 21 cases of severe allergic reactions from December 14-23, 2020 after administering about 1.9 million first dose of the Pfizer- BioNTech jab. According to CDC, that’s an incidence of 11.1 cases per million doses.
It is expected for the CDC to continue to provide updates as more is learnt about how well the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine works in real-world conditions.
Contribution: Bloomberg, Associated Press