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The side-effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are rare and usually mild. However, they could include fever and nausea. These can be dangerous in very ill and frail patients.

CNN’s recent article entitled “Norway reviewing deaths of frail and elderly patients vaccinated against Covid-19” reports that after the deaths, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health updated its COVID-19 vaccination guide with more detailed advice on inoculating the elderly who are frail or terminally ill. The new guidance suggests that physicians should evaluate each individual patient to see if the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of any potential side effects.

As of last January 15th, 42,000 people in Norway had received their first dose of the vaccine. Like many other countries, the elderly and those in nursing homes with underlying health conditions are the first to be vaccinated. That is because these individuals have a much higher risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19.

“Therefore, it is expected that deaths close to the time [of the] vaccination may occur. In Norway, an average of 400 people die each week in nursing homes and long-term care facilities,” the Norwegian Medicines Agency (NOMA) said in a statement.

NOMA explained that all deaths that occur within the first few days of vaccination “are carefully assessed” and submitted to the Norwegian ADR health registry.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently that the deaths have to be put into context of the population that they occurred in, a nursing home with extremely frail individuals. Fauci remarked that his understanding was that the deaths came after the booster dose of the vaccine when there are more non-specific symptoms, such as aches, fever and malaise.

“It is conceivable that when you have a very frail individual, such as many who are in nursing homes, that even that amount of stress to them could put them over the top,” Fauci added.

A professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said that thus far there was “no evidence that any link between vaccination and death in these vulnerable patients is a causal one.”

When those who are at high risk of death get vaccinated, there will be a certain number of coincidental deaths that occur shortly after vaccination.

Fauci agreed, saying that the first question is what was the rate of death in the nursing homes in the individuals who never received the vaccine? “Once you get that you’ll get the true denominator,” he said.

Pfizer said in a statement that it was aware of the reported deaths and “our immediate thoughts are with the bereaved families.”

Pfizer added it is working with NOMA to gather all the relevant information.

“Norwegian Authorities have prioritized the immunization of residents in nursing homes, most of whom are very elderly with underlying medical conditions and some which are terminally ill,” Pfizer said in a statement, adding that NOMA has said “the number of incidents so far is not alarming, and in line with expectations.”

Reference: CNN (Jan. 19, 2021) “Norway reviewing deaths of frail and elderly patients vaccinated against Covid-19”

Suggested Key Terms: Elder Care, COVID-19 (coronavirus)