What you need to know about the claims 23 people died after getting the Covid-19 vaccine in Norway

18 January 2021
What was claimed

23 people in Norway died after getting the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.

Our verdict

True as of 14 January, but we don’t know for certain that getting the vaccine was what caused these people’s deaths. There’s a possibility that side effects of these vaccines, such as nausea and fever, contributed to the deaths of these 23 elderly patients. As of 17 January there had been 33 such deaths.

We’ve been asked by our readers to investigate claims that 23 people died in Norway after getting the Covid-19 vaccination.

According to the Norwegian Medicines Agency, as of 14 January there had been 23 deaths “associated with” getting a Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination, of which 13 had been assessed so far. 

The agency’s chief physician, Sigurd Hortemo, added that “common adverse reactions to mRNA vaccines, such as fever and nausea, may have contributed to a fatal outcome in some frail patients”.

The agency added that because the country is vaccinating the elderly and those in nursing homes with serious underlying issues, it is expected that deaths close to the time of vaccination may occur. Elderly or not, a certain number of people in a population getting vaccinated would be expected to die by chance in that period, and this doesn’t necessarily mean that the vaccine caused these deaths. 

By comparison, 400 people on average die in Norwegian nursing homes and long-term care facilities per week. But because these 23 deaths were close to vaccination they are being fully assessed. 

We asked the Norwegian Medicines Agency what the most up to date figure was, and it told us that as of 17 January, it had received 33 suspected adverse drug reaction reports with fatal outcomes. It added that: “Adverse reactions are reported on suspicion and the reports describe events that have occurred after vaccination. Even though an event has been reported, this does not necessarily imply that a causal relationship has been established between the event and the vaccines.”

The Norwegian Institute of Public health has now advised that for frail or terminally ill patients, an evaluation should take place as to whether the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of potential adverse reactions.

The agency’s medical director, Steinar Madsen, told the British Medical Journal that there is no certain connection between these deaths and the vaccine.

He said: “There is a possibility that these common adverse reactions, that are not dangerous in fitter, younger patients and are not unusual with vaccines, may aggravate underlying disease in the elderly.”

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency in the UK continually monitors potential side effects of all vaccines, in the UK, even after they have been approved for use.

Claims that this story hasn’t been covered by the “mainstream media” are untrue. The British Medical Journal, MailOnline and the Sun published their stories on 15 January, Bloomberg on 16 January, and the Express on 18 January.

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