'We aren't sure': Fears over Covid-19 vaccine after 13 people die

There are fears over a Covid-19 vaccine which might be used in Australia after the deaths of 13 people.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency has reported 29 people had suffered side effects from having used the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, 13 of them fatal.

Steinar Madsen, medical director of the Norwegian Medicines Agency (NOMA), told the British Medical Journal (BMJ) “it may be a coincidence but we aren’t sure”.

A doctor holds a handful of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine in Santa Coloma de Farners, Spain.
A doctor holds a handful of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Spain. Source: Getty Images

“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,” he told the BMJ.

“We are now asking for doctors to continue with the vaccination, but to carry out extra evaluation of very sick people whose underlying condition might be aggravated by it.”

All the patients who died after receiving the vaccine are aged 80 or older, Norwegian media NRK reported.

Australian government to assess Pfizer risk

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is seeking additional information through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) from the company and the Norwegian medical regulator.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has also tasked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to seek advice directly from the Norwegian government.

“So as further information is available, we’ll share that with the Australian public,” Mr Hunt said.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt addresses media during a doorstop in the Mural Hall at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.
Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the Australian government has been in touch with the manufacturer of the vaccine. Source: Getty Images (file pic)

“There is no change in our time frames at this point, but the medical regulator is completely empowered to make independent decisions.”

The Pfizer vaccine forms only part of Australia's response to Covid-19, as there will be a greater use of the AstraZeneca, and home produced, vaccine once it has been approved by the TGA.

Vaccinations are due to start next month.

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said concerns over Pfizer was why Australia has not put all its eggs in one basket when it comes to a vaccine, with the AstraZeneca, Novavax and other options available.

“We’ve got enough doses to, of course, roll out right across the nation, free of charge, and to also provide a vaccine, from February, for the Pacific Islands as well,” he told the Seven Network's Weekend Sunrise program.

“So throughout the year, we’re going to ensure that the vaccine is swift, yes, but safe. Absolutely paramount it will be safe.”

A healthcare worker is receiving the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in the Indoor Sports Centre during the start of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Eindhoven, Netherlands.
A woman receives the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in the Netherlands. Source: Getty Images

There was some good news on the likely take-up of the vaccine from market researcher Roy Morgan.

A survey of more than 1200 respondents found over three-quarters of Australians say they would be willing to be vaccinated when the vaccine becomes publicly available.

At the same time, just under three-quarters say mask wearing should be compulsory.

with AAP

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