Deaths probably not connected to vaccine

06.01.2021 - 14:53
Rúna Hauksdóttir Hvannberg
 Mynd: RÚV - Skjáskot
The deaths of four elderly people shortly after they received the first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Iceland are unlikely to be connected to the injections, the head of the Medicines Agency says. Further research is being carried out, however.

Rúna Hauksdóttir Hvannberg appeared on RÚV’s Kastljós interview programme yesterday evening and said it is important to remember that 4,000 of the oldest and frailest people in the country were among the first to receive the vaccine in Iceland, and that many have pre-existing medical conditions. She added that no serious side effects have been reported in the 1,000 healthcare workers who have also been immunised so far.

Rúna said she has met with the chief epidemiologist and the head of the Directorate of Health and a decision has been made to appoint an independent outside agency to investigate if there is any link between the four deaths and the vaccine: “I believe it is very important. We are getting a new vaccine in and it is also respectful to the affected individuals and their next-of-kin. It also gives us information for the continuing vaccination [programme].” 

Rúna also said that the effect of the vaccine in over-85s has not been widely researched: “It is never the case when medicines or vaccines are registered. These are groups that are not involved in clinical trials. That’s why it is of such importance to monitor medicines and vaccines when they come on the market, because they start being used in a much wider and more diverse manner.” 

Asked whether it had been a mistake to go public with the death and side-effects data right away this week, without taking time to explain the context in more detail, Rúna said opinion is divided. “But this is a small country and it would have been very quick to enter the conversation. It was reported to us as a possible severe side-effect and we take that very seriously. The European Medicines Agency and Pfizer do as well.” She said transparency and openness remain key, even when it comes to difficult topics. 

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