Norway has found there is “no direct link” between the Pfizer COVID vaccine and the deaths of 33 seniors who got the jab after reports of fatalities sent shockwaves around the world.
Some of the patients who died were also terminally ill and health authorities say while they were immunised just before they died, it had nothing to do with the jab along with over 40,000 other people.
The Pfizer jab is the first vaccine that will be used in Australia to protect quarantine workers and border force staff.
But the reports of deaths overseas were particularly alarming here in Australia, because the Pfizer vaccine will also be used in nursing homes to vaccinate aged care workers and seniors.
However, Norwegian Medicines Agency medical director Dr Steinar Madsen now says that the 33 people who died after being immunised were already sick and over the age of 80.
“Clearly, COVID-19 is far more dangerous to most patients than vaccination,” Dr Madsen said.
“All of these patients had serious underlying illnesses. We can’t say that people die from the vaccine. We can say that it may be coincidental. It is difficult to prove that it’s the vaccine which is the direct cause. We are not alarmed.”
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The early evidence in Norway of side effects from the vaccine suggests that doctors may need to use discretion when vaccinating elderly, frail patients with underlying illnesses.
But conversely, these patients are also most at risk of dying if they contract COVID-19.
There was some speculation that side effects including temperatures and fevers after the vaccine was administered could be enough to tip some frail, elderly patients over the edge.
But Norway is now suggesting some of the deaths may not be related to the vaccine at all, but simply followed shortly after the vaccine was given.
Norway has now vaccinated it’s entire nursing home population with the deaths working out at around 1 elderly resident for every 1,000 people vaccinated.
A spokesman for Pfizer said: “Norwegian authorities have prioritised the immunisation of residents in nursing homes, most of whom are very elderly with underlying medical conditions and some which are terminally ill.
“The Norwegian Medicine Agency confirms the number of incidents so far is not alarming, and in line with expectations.
“All reported deaths will be thoroughly evaluated by [the agency] to determine if these incidents are related to the vaccine.
“The Norwegian government will also consider adjusting their vaccination instructions to take the patients’ health into more consideration.”
Germany and Israel have also reported deaths in people who recently were vaccinated but again stressed that no causal link could be established with the vaccine.
Norwegian authorities have also stressed there’s nothing to suggest that the deaths represent an increase on what authorities would expect to record weekly in a nursing home.
“It is important to remember that about 45 people die every day in nursing homes in Norway, so it is not a given that this represents any excess mortality or that there is a causal connection,” Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said.
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended the safety of the Pfizer vaccine describing seniors who died in Norway after getting the jab as “in the last phases of life”.
Mr Morrison said today the small number deaths were “distressing” but that it “can happen” with very frail people.
“I think this just highlights why we’ve been prudent,’’ he told Radio 2GB on Monday.
“These cases in Norway, they’re distressing. But in terms of the total volume of vaccinations that have been provided and those who have been provided with them who have sadly passed away, they are very aged people, and they were in the last phases of life and very frail, and this can happen with these vaccinations.”
The Prime Minister has previously confirmed that seniors in aged care are one of the priority groups to be vaccinated after hotel quarantine workers and frontline border force staff.
“People know my view on the vaccine has always been safety first, health first,’’ he said.
“Let’s make sure they’re right. Let’s make sure all the I’s are dotted and all the T’s are crossed. Then we can give the tick and then people can safely get the jab. And that’s the way we have to do it patiently but as expeditiously as we as we responsibly can.”