Svein Andersen, 67, received Norway’s first COVID-19 vaccine dose on January 17.

Norway vaccine deaths post leaps to conclusions

AAP FactCheck January 25, 2021

The Statement

A social media post claims that 23 people died in Norway from taking Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The Facebook post from January 17 reads: “23 people die from the c (sic) pfizer vaccine in Norway and according to media – they are frail, elderly, had pre existing health conditions and were probably going to die anyway.”

It goes on to say: “There are major lockdowns, people coerced into quarantine and testing, businesses locked down, relationships destroyed and people are guilt tripped into handing over their freedoms, physical distancing and wearing face nappy’s (sic).

“How is that for absolute BS!! The hypocrisy astounds me…”

At the time of writing, the post by a user from Australia had been shared more than 225 times and generated more than 70 comments and 490 reactions.

A Facebook post
 A Facebook post claims 23 people in Norway died from the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19. 

The Analysis

News reports on January 15 drew global attention to 23 deaths in Norway among elderly people who had received the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

However, many social media reactions to the news linked the deaths to the Pfizer vaccine without providing key context, as detailed by Norwegian fact checkers, Faktisk.

The Norwegian Medical Agency (NMA) reported that by January 14 there had been 23 suspected deaths associated with COVID-19 vaccines reported to the Norwegian ADR (adverse drug reactions) registry.

An NMA background report said in many of the fatalities “no link with vaccination is suspected” and “the event was due to an underlying illness suffered by the patient”. It noted that only the elderly in nursing home or long-term care facilities had received vaccinations to date.

“Every day, an average of 45 people die in Norwegian nursing homes or other similar institutions,” the report added.

“When vaccinating such a group, deaths will inevitably occur shortly after the vaccine is administered. The vast majority of those who have been vaccinated appear not to have suffered any adverse reaction to the vaccine.”

But the report also said that for some of the frailest patients the possibility that relatively mild side effects from the vaccine may have caused serious health consequences could not be ruled out.

NMA medical director Steinar Madsen told Bloomberg in an interview on January 18 that a connection between the vaccine and the deaths was difficult to prove.

“Clearly, COVID-19 is far more dangerous to most patients than vaccination. We are not alarmed.”

In an update to the story on January 19, Dr Madsen said: “We can’t say that people die from the vaccine. We can say that it may be coincidental. It is difficult to prove that it’s the vaccine which is the direct cause.”

A senior physician at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), Dr Sara Viksmoen Watle, said the fatal incidents among severely frail patients do not imply a causal relationship between COVID-19 vaccination and death.

“In order to be able to interpret this information, it is important to see the full picture,” Dr Watle told the NIPH.

“Nursing home residents are at very high risk of a severe disease course or dying from COVID-19, and have therefore been prioritised for vaccination. A large proportion of those who live in nursing homes have severe underlying conditions or are in the last stages of life.”

Dr Watle said that 48,680 people had been vaccinated against COVID-19 in Norway as of January 18 and the majority had mild or no side effects.

“So far, there are no statistical analyses that indicate that coronavirus vaccination has had an increased risk of death among those vaccinated.”

A spokesman for Pfizer told AAP FactCheck in an email: “The Norwegian Medicines Agency (NMA) has reported while a possible connection in the most vulnerable patients cannot be ruled out, they have confirmed there is no evidence of a direct link between the deaths and vaccination.

“NIPH has clarified its vaccination guidance for severely frail patients (for example equivalent to Clinical Frailty Scale 8 or higher) and terminally ill patients including a careful assessment of the benefit versus risk of the vaccination. Our immediate thoughts are with the bereaved families.”

AAP FactCheck has previously debunked claims which linked deaths among Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine trial participants to adverse effects. Similar claims regarding the deaths in Norway have been fact-checked here, here and here.

The Verdict

The Facebook post links 23 deaths in Norway to the Pfizer vaccine without providing important context.

Officials from both the Norwegian Medicines Agency and Norwegian Institute of Public Health said they had so far found no evidence of a direct link between the vaccine and the deaths among elderly nursing home recipients, although the possibility had not been ruled out.

Missing Context – The content may mislead without additional context.

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