Norwegian health officials are warning about the possible risks of COVID-19 vaccines for frail, elderly people following reports of deaths linked to the shots.
Officials on Friday reported that 23 people died shortly after receiving their coronavirus shots, of which 13 have been autopsied.
Sigurd Hortemo, chief physician at the Norwegian Medicines Agency, said common adverse reactions to mRNA vaccines such as fever and nausea might have contributed to the deaths in some frail patients.
“The large studies on Comirnaty (BioNTec/Pfizer) did not include patients with unstable or acute illness — and included few participants over 85 years of age,” the Norwegian Medicines Agency said. “In Norway we are now vaccinating the elderly and people in nursing homes with serious underlying diseases, therefore it is expected that deaths close to the time vaccination may occur. In Norway, an average of 400 people die each week in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.”
Pfizer and BioNTech are helping Norwegian officials investigate the deaths, Pfizer told Bloomberg. The number of incidents the health agency has found so far is “not alarming and in line with expectations,” Pfizer reportedly said.
Of 29 cases of potential adverse reactions to the vaccine, 21 of them were in people 80 years or older, says a report released this week by the Norwegian Medicines Agency.
Allergic reactions to the vaccine have been reported as well, although they are “exceedingly rare,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last week, the CDC reported that out of nearly 2 million people who were vaccinated against COVID-19, only 21 experienced severe allergic reactions during a 10-day period in December.
The majority of these people also had a history of allergies or allergic reactions, the agency added. However, the risks of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 are much higher, with more than 2,000 people dying each day, according to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
“Of course, we all would hope that any vaccine would have zero adverse events, but even at 11 cases per million doses administered, it’s a very safe vaccine,” said Dr. Messonnier, The Hill reported. “The risk from COVID and poor outcomes from COVID is still more than the risk of a severe outcome from the vaccine,” she said.
The coronavirus has infected almost 94 million people and killed more than 2 million worldwide as of Saturday, a tally by Johns Hopkins University shows.