The death in Norway of 13 elderly and frail patients who had received the Covid-19 vaccine has sparked concern both in the country and abroad.
The deaths led the Norwegian Medicines Agency to issue a warning about giving the vaccine to frail and terminally ill patients and to tweak its vaccine policy. But the agency has stressed that most people have little cause for concern.
Who are the victims?
In a press release, the Norwegian Medicines Agency stated that as of 14 January, there had been 23 reported deaths that occurred shortly after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.
Of the 13 investigated fatalities, all were old and frail. All were over 80 years old, while some were over 90, according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
What was the cause of death?
The cause of death is linked to the side-effects of the vaccine, which, despite being generally mild, may be serious for frail and terminally ill people.
“Common adverse reactions to mRNA vaccines, such as fever and nausea, may have contributed to a fatal outcome in some patients,” said chief physician Sigurd Hortemo at the Norwegian Medicines Agency in a press release.
Should we expect more similar deaths?
Norway is currently concentrating their vaccination efforts on elderly people in nursing homes who also have serious underlying conditions.
“We cannot rule out that adverse reactions to the vaccine occurring within the first days following vaccination (such as fever and nausea) may contribute to more serious course and fatal outcome in patients with severe underlying diseases,” the Norwegian Medicines Agency concludes.
Has Norway's vaccination policy changed?
Due to the increased risk of serious side-effects, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has changed their vaccine recommendations for people who are very old and very frail. The institute also points out that people who have very little expected time left or who are terminally ill, may get little benefits from the vaccine.
NIPH states it “recommends careful consideration of costs and benefits of a vaccine” before inoculating very frail people.
Has there been much alarm in Norway?
While the story of the deaths has prompted understandable questions from authorities and the public alike, there's not been any panic in a country with no real anti-vaccine movement.
It seems the message carried by health authorities is enough to reassure the public at large.
What do Norwegian health authorities say?
Authorities stress the vaccination rollout will continue as planned in Norway.
Executive manager of medicine Steinar Madsen at the Norwegian Medicines Agency emphasised that thousands of old and sick people have been successfully vaccinated.
“This is not a cause for concern for us,” he said to NRK. “Clearly these vaccines pose very little risk, with an exception for people who are extremely frail.”