My list of COVID-19 vaccine myths keeps growing – this time, it’s about 23 deaths in Norway after they received the COVID-19 vaccine. On the surface, that seems frightening considering the fact that Norway is a relatively small country. On the other hand, a critical analysis should convince us that it’s not what it appears to be.
As I usually do with these COVID-19 vaccine myths, I’m going to review the facts of these 23 deaths in Norway plus how to interpret what is observed. And then I’ll get the standard “you are a Big Pharma shill” ad hominem personal attack in the comments. Of course, Big Pharma pays me $4.73 for each personal attack against me, so I should be able to afford a new Ferrari soon.
But seriously folks, let’s see if these deaths in Norway have anything to do with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Norway COVID-19 vaccine deaths
Of course, once the news of the 23 deaths in Norway that were “caused” by the Pfizer COVID-19-19 vaccine got out to the internet, anti-vaxxers jumped on it quickly. The anti-vaccine physician, Sherri Tenpenny, posted this on Twitter:
First, she posted a link to an article in the New York Post, a laughably right-wing newspaper owned by the laughably right-wing Rupert Murdoch. The New York Post is one of the least credible newspapers in the USA. So whatever they write will, of course, not include a fair analysis of what actually happened.
Second, like most pseudoscientific lunatics, Tenpenny only searches for articles that support her bias against vaccines. In other words, she cannot be trusted.
Nevertheless, these reports of deaths in Norway flowed through the anti-vaccine world and it has become one of the major tropes in the battle to discredit the COVID-19 vaccines.
According to a report, the Norwegian Medicines Agency, the “FDA” for Norway, reported a total of 29 people had suffered side effects, 13 of them fatal. All the deaths occurred among patients in nursing homes and all were over the age of 80. The agency listed fever and nausea as side effects of the Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, and, according to the Norwegian Medicines Agency, “may have led to deaths of some frail patients.”
We are not alarmed by this. It is quite clear that these vaccines have very little risk, with a small exception for the frailest patients. Doctors must now carefully consider who should be vaccinated. Those who are very frail and at the very end of life can be vaccinated after an individual assessment.
In other words, these were very frail, and possibly terminal, elderly patients who were near end-of-life.
And, as a result of these observations, the Norwegian Medicines Agency issued new guidance with respect to these vaccines:
For the vast majority of people who are elderly and living with frailty, any side effects of the vaccine will more than be offset by a reduced risk of becoming seriously ill from covid-19. For those with the most serious frailty, however, even relatively mild vaccine side effects can have serious consequences. For those who have a very short remaining life, the benefit of the vaccine may be marginal or irrelevant. Therefore, for very frail patients (eg equivalent to Clinical Frailty Scale 8 or higher) and terminally ill patients, a careful weighing of benefit versus disadvantage of vaccination is recommended.
Dr. Vincent Iannelli, in a recent blog post, concluded that:
Also understand that it’s not that the risk of the getting sick with COVID-19 outweighs the risk of getting vaccinated, but rather that because there could be extra risk from the vaccine in these patients, it might be worth the risk of skipping the vaccine and hoping that you just don’t get sick with COVID-19.
And despite what some folks are reporting, health officials in Norway are not saying that the elderly should not be vaccinated, nor have they reported that the average number of people who die each week in nursing homes and long-term care facilities has increased since the COVID-19 vaccination program began.
Don’t rely upon the post hoc fallacy
The problem with these breathless anti-vaccine claims is that they are based on the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy – that is, because these deaths in Norway followed the COVID-19 vaccine, they must have been caused by that vaccine.
The anti-vaxxers are leaping to causality between the vaccines and the deaths when we are not even certain of correlation.
In the USA, we can expect over 14,000 deaths after 10 million COVID-19 vaccinations. Does that mean that the 14,000 deaths were caused by the vaccine? No.
People die all of the time, especially those with high risk-factors like cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, and driving a high-speed motorcycle without a helmet. The only way to tell if a vaccine is related to those deaths is to compare the mortality rate of the general population versus the vaccinated one in a well-controlled and -designed clinical trial.
Guess what? We did that – over 43,000 individuals in the phase 3 clinical trial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, there was no difference in deaths.
It is reasonable to believe that the minor side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine could have led to the deaths of frail elderly patients in Norway. Many were near end-of-life, so it would be difficult, if not impossible, to separate the natural death process from the vaccine. However, it’s almost a guarantee that a COVID-19 infection would lead to death.
Furthermore, these deaths have not been observed in slightly younger groups who were not frail but may have some risk factors.
Anti-vaccine activists are doing everything they can to discredit the COVID-19 vaccines. They are claiming that the COVID-19 vaccines have killed nurses, killed physicians, caused infertility, or destroyed your DNA. None of these wild claims are true.
Maybe frail, elderly patients shouldn’t receive the vaccine despite the overwhelming benefit. But that benefit to cost equation swings way over to the benefits side of the equation for almost every other group.