Norway not categorically stating Pfizer vaccine caused deaths - expert

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 18 2021 09:24 AM | Updated as of Jan 18 2021 11:31 AM

A health professional is given an injection of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at the Refena center in Pamplona, Spain, Jan. 17, 2021. Vincent West, Reuters

MANILA (UPDATE) - A health expert on Monday allayed concerns about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines following dozens of deaths of elderly people in Norway linked to the Pfizer jabs.

"It's possible it may have contributed to their demise but they're (Norwegian authorities) not categorically stating that it is the vaccine that caused the death," Dr. Edsel Salvaña, member of the technical advisory group that advises the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), told ANC.

"It may have contributed because common side effects like fever, chills from the vaccination, which are pretty much harmless in young people, may actually stress out these elderly people who have a lot of other comorbid condition."

This, after 29 elderly people with underlying health conditions died in Norway after receiving coronavirus vaccine. Norwegian authorities will continue the inoculation program "with an abundance of caution," he said.

Salvaña, also the director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines - National Institutes of Health, stressed that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccine outweighed the risks.

"In terms of just the benefit versus the risk, it's very clear that the clear and present danger at this time, this COVID-19, and for those population -- the elderly and frontliners who are at high risk for dying -- the benefit of giving vaccines to prevent death is very, very high versus waiting until we have more data because the danger now for these high-risk groups is imminent," he said.

The health expert also noted that it may be difficult to prove causation on deaths linked to the vaccines.

"From a purely technical standpoint, it's unlikely that the vaccines caused the death of these people," he said. 

"It may have contributed to it because they're already frail to begin with and that's why we have to be careful in giving vaccine to anyone who has other underlying condition."

The Philippines' vaccine expert panel is awaiting results of Norwegian authorities' investigation, said its head Nina Gloriani.

"Kung meron mang totoong naging adverse reaction baka dahil ang mga pasyenteng ito ay sobrang matatanda, maraming comorbidities or sakit at hindi natin pwede basta sabihin na dahil sa bakuna," she told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.

(If there really was an adverse reaction, it may be because these patients were too old, had several illnesses. We cannot say it was just because of the vaccine.)

"Pero dahil masyadong marami within let us say a few days or 1 week kailangan lang pong imbestigahan."

(But because there were too many deaths, within let us say a few days or 1 week, it needs to be investigated.)

The vaccine was most likely tested among the general population with few elderly with underlying conditions, Gloriani said.

"Importante kasi na mas marami sanang elderly na naisali sa kanilang pagtetest, sa clinical trials, para mas maraming makikita na adverse reactions," she said.

(It's important that more elderly people were included in the tests, in the clinical trials to see more adverse reactions.)

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Amid fears of vaccine hesitancy, Salvaña called on leaders to lead by example by getting COVID-19 shots first.

"I think we should lead by example that these vaccines are safe and effective and also make sure that the process of approval and procurement is transparent so that people don't think there's other consideration, other than effectiveness, other than the science," he said.

"And that our leaders are willing to take these vaccines without hesitancy because we know in the end it's gonna save tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of Filipino lives once we roll out these vaccines."

Last week, the Philippine government approved Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for emergency use.

Based on interim data of Phase III trials, the vaccine has an efficacy rate of 95 percent, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had said. The efficacy rate for all racial groups was at 92 percent.

"The adverse events were transient and mostly mild to moderate, similar to common vaccine reactions among other vaccines that are in use now,” FDA director general Eric Domingo had said.

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