Deaths related to the Pfizer vaccine among Norway’s elderly should be seen in context of the 400 deaths in aged care there each week, with the rollout in Australia expected to be unaffected, the chief medical officer says.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly says the Australian government and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is in direct talks with its counterparts in Norway, which is looking into each of the deaths of the 33 seniors.
“In Norway in a normal week, 400 people do pass away in their aged care facilities. So this has to be put in the context of what has happened after people have received vaccines,” Professor Kelly told reporters on Tuesday.
“That needs to be looked at very carefully, and that TGA will take that information into account in their assessment in the coming days and weeks.”
The Norwegian Medicines Agency medical director Dr Steinar Madsen says the 33 people who died after being immunised were already sick and over the age of 80.
Professor Kelly says he doesn’t have detailed information on each of the patients, but in general terms they were old, frail and some were terminally ill.
“They appeared that at least some of them have had the types of side effect of the Pfizer vaccine that we know about already from the clinical trials, so fever, diarrhoea, not eating, not drinking, people are very frail to begin with, close sort of things can be serious, and that type of situation.
“As I say, Norwegians are doing their due diligence in relation to that. We will have access to that information.”
Professor Kelly said mortality rate is very high once you get over 80 or 90 if you get COVID-19 and the TGA will need to work out the risk equation of who should be excluded from the vaccine.
He added Australia is in an enviable situation – with no hot spots, zero locally acquired cases over the last five days and no COVID-19 deaths for months – a huge contrast to the rest of the world still in the midst of the pandemic with 50,000 deaths globally in the last five days.
As a result, Australia has waited to do a full assessment of information coming in from other countries rolling out the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and other vaccines.
“They will be taken into account, it will not delay the process, but the TGA is doing its due diligence as we expect them to do,” he said.
“We have a balanced portfolio of vaccine that we are working through and Pfizer will most likely be the first to get approval, that is subject to the TGA’s very detailed look at that vaccine and their assessment.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine is also being actively considered by Australia’s expert advisory group.
Professor Kelly said the efficacy was only one component of a vaccine’s effectiveness besides how long its effect lasted and the coverage needed for it to work.
“We need to give as many vaccines out into the community as possible. If we do not do that then the effectiveness will be indeed affected,” he said.
He also cautioned the roll out of the first vaccinations in Australia in a few weeks “will not change everything back to normal” on the travel front.
Although Australia is in an enviable position compared to the rest of the world, international borders will be one of the last things to change, Professor Kelly said.