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With the mass COVID-19 vaccination drive starting from today in India, there comes some bad news from Norway. According to reports, 23 elderly people died after receiving the Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. Norway launched a mass vaccination campaign at the end of December, with the very oldest citizens and residents of nursing homes being offered vaccination first, including those over the age of 85. Other than this, many others fell ill soon after getting the shot. Most of the deaths were seen among people above the age of 80 years who were already weak and frail. Following this alarming development, Norway has launched a probe into the deaths.
Although a direct connection between the Pfizer vaccine and these deaths is yet to be established, experts say 13 of the 23 people who died have shown common side effects of mRNA vaccines such as diarrhea, nausea and fever. Meanwhile, Pfizer has now gone to temporarily reducing its vaccine supply in Europe following the concerns raised with the deaths in Norway. The reduction in deliveries is due to Pfizer limiting output so that it can upgrade production capacity to 2 billion vaccine doses per year from 1.3 billion currently, Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has issued a cautionary note for the elderly. It says that those above the age of 80 have a short remaining lifespan anyway. So, this segment of the population may not benefit greatly from COVID-19 vaccines and, as such, may refrain from getting the much-awaited jab. The Norwegian Medicines Agency posted on its website that all the deaths have occurred in frail, elderly patients in nursing homes. All are over 80 years old and some of them over 90.
So far, more than 30,000 people have received the first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine in Norway since the end of December. With the deaths of 23 elderly, experts have said that doctors must now carefully consider who should be vaccinated. 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 Norwegian Medicines Agency, however, admitted that the studies that form the basis for the temporary approval of the vaccine included very few people over the age of 85, and little is known about how any side effects will affect these age brackets. But the agency said: "We assume that the side-effects will largely be the same in the elderly as in those over 65 years of age." Pfizer was yet to reach to the report.
According to a Chinese immunologist, the new mRNA vaccine was developed in haste and had never been used on a large scale for the prevention of infectious disease, and its safety had not been confirmed for large-scale use in humans. Two COVID-19 vaccines, Comirnaty, from BioNTec/Pfizer and Moderna, are being used in Norway. The vaccines have been developed on mRNA technology and have received temporary approval in the EU, according to the report. Chinese experts said the death incident should be assessed cautiously to understand whether the death was caused by vaccines or other pre-existing conditions of these individuals.
(With inputs from Agencies)
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