By Bojan Pancevski 

The Norwegian drug agency on Monday warned medical authorities in the country not to administer the Covid-19 vaccine to terminally-ill patients because a small number of elderly people had died shortly after receiving the shot in recent days.

Norway is unrolling the vaccine developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc. and authorities have reported 23 cases of elderly recipients suffering from serious medical conditions dying days after being inoculated.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency, which regulates drugs, examined 13 of the cases, with an average age of 86, and said that six of the people had been terminally ill from various conditions before their vaccination. In addition, 11 suffered from dementia and serious comorbidities such as heart disease.

"We have now repeated our existing advice not to give the vaccine to terminally ill patients," a spokeswoman for the agency said. The spokeswoman added that there was no evidence the vaccine was in any way unsafe and authorities didn't have any concerns about its use.

The agency said Norway's vaccination campaign, like many others around the world, had been giving priority to elderly people in nursing homes, some of whom have serious underlying diseases, and it was therefore expected that deaths might occur close to the time of vaccination.

In Norway, an average of 400 people die each week in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to the agency.

"An evaluation should be carried out for each patient as to whether the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of eventual side effects," the agency said. "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 courses and fatal outcomes in patients with severe underlying diseases."

Deaths among recently vaccinated people aren't unusual because many countries gave priority to the oldest and therefore most frail citizens and residents of care homes, said a spokeswoman for BioNTech. In Germany, some of the initial recipients of the vaccine were age 100 or older.

Representatives for Pfizer didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, Germany's health minister Jens Spahn told reporters that the country's medicines regulator had looked into the issue of deaths occurring close to vaccination in cooperation with their Norwegian counterparts but that they had so far not found any reason to reconsider existing procedures.

A spokeswoman for Germany's vaccines regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, said that deaths among the elderly following vaccination were expected statistically because, of the 12,000 people who die in the European Union every day, 83% are over 65 years old.

Write to Bojan Pancevski at bojan.pancevski@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 18, 2021 13:00 ET (18:00 GMT)

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