OSLO: Twenty-three elderly patients died in Norway within days of receiving their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, prompting a detailed investigation into the fatalities.
At least 13 of those deaths were nursing home patients and at least 80 years old. Norwegian health officials said the deaths were related to the side effects of the shots.
Sigurd Hortemo, chief physician at the Norwegian Medicines Agency, said the common reactions to the vaccine, including fever and nausea “may have contributed to a fatal outcome in some frail patients.”
The news comes just over a week after officials reported the deaths of just two nursing home residents after they received Pfizer’s vaccine.
More than 30,000 people in Norway have received the first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine in the Scandinavian country since late last month, according to official figures.
“We are not alarmed by this,” Steinar Madsen, medical director with the agency, told a Norwegian broadcaster. “It is quite clear that these vaccines have very little risk, with a small exception for the frailest patients.”
“Doctors must now carefully consider who should be vaccinated,” he added. “Those who are very frail and at the very end of life can be vaccinated after an individual assessment.”
The agency reported that a total of 29 people had suffered side effects, including the 13 people who died. Twenty-one women and eight men experienced side effects, officials said.
Besides those who died, nine had serious side effects including allergic reactions, strong discomfort and severe fever, while seven had less serious ones including severe pain at the injection site.
Norway has reported more than 57,000 cases and 500 coronavirus-related deaths. Health officials noted that around 400 people die each week among the nursing home population.
In a statement, Pfizer said it is “aware of reported deaths” following the administration of the vaccine in Norway and is working with the Norwegian Medicine Agency to gather all the relevant information.
“Norwegian authorities have prioritized the immunization of residents in nursing homes, most of whom are very elderly with underlying medical conditions and some which are terminally ill,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
It said the number of incidents so far is not alarming and in line with expectations. The Norwegian government has decided to adjust vaccination instructions to take the health of patients into consideration.