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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Australian experts provide perspective on Norwegians deaths after Pfizer vaccine

Health Industry Hub | January 20, 2021 |

Pharma News: Norway has reported a number of deaths and side effects in elderly people after being given the Pfizer vaccine. According to the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), of 40,000 people vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine in Norway, there have been approximately 30 deaths and some side effects.

Dr Abrar Chughtai, a lecturer and the director of the Master of Infectious Diseases Intelligence (MIDI) program in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW Sydney said “We need more data before jumping to conclusions. A total of about 30 deaths occurred in nursing homes – most of them over the age of 80. Baseline data and other cases should be checked as around 400 people die every week in Norwegian nursing homes.

“Millions of doses of the same vaccine have been administered in the US, UK and some other countries, and no death is reported due to the vaccine. These deaths may be unrelated to the vaccine, but we definitely need to be vigilant and check data from other countries, which I am sure the Therapeutic Goods Administration will do.

“We know that development of a new vaccine is generally a long process and requires multiple trials to ensure safety and efficacy. So far there is only one study on safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine and, of total participants, 42 per cent were older than 55 years of age (median age was 52 years) and around one-fifth had co-existing medical illnesses. As this vaccine may be tested on very few people over 80 years of age, more data is needed to ensure safety and efficacy in this age group.  

“However, this type of news will definitely reduce public confidence in vaccination. Last week we were discussing the low efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and this week a new has issue come up.

“These are the challenges we face during a severe pandemic. So the government needs to ensure transparency and engage researchers and other community groups to maintain trust and avoid mixed messages.”

Dr Diego Silva, Sydney Health Ethics at University of Sydney School of Public Health, said “The deaths of the Norwegians over the age of 80 should sadden us, but should not deter us from the Pfizer vaccine as things currently stand. Norway have acted in good faith within the global health community by instituting a pharmaco-surveillance system and reported findings that may be troubling.

“The key right now is to investigate the causes of those deaths and continue monitoring for all side effects with the knowledge that it is still the case that serious side effects are exceedingly rare, especially when we consider the global rollout of the Pfizer vaccine.

“We require medical due diligence while continuing to reassure and fostering public trust in the vaccine. It is not the time to panic nor withdraw the vaccine from circulation.”

Hassan Vally, Associate Professor in Epidemiology at La Trobe University, said “As I have been repeating throughout the past 12 months, it’s really important to be measured and calm when looking at any new information that emerges as we navigate the pandemic, even when new information relates to deaths in individuals who have received a vaccine.

“If we step back and try and put this in perspective, despite how unfortunate this is, these deaths have occurred in a number of older, frail individuals, some of whom had terminal illnesses. All of these individuals were over the age of 80 years of age. It is unclear at this stage what exactly led to these deaths and this needs to be understood better before drawing conclusions.

“What can be said is that all new information we obtain as the vaccine is delivered throughout the world needs to be examined closely and be used to inform how we implement our vaccination strategy. This information, along with any new information that comes to hand, will be examined closely by regulators in Australia to fully understand if there are any implications for us.

“What we can take some comfort from is that millions of people have safely received the Pfizer vaccine throughout the world,” he concluded.


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