VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte’s claim on Norway deaths following vaccination with Pfizer needs context

Read this fact check in Filipino

President Rodrigo Duterte insinuated that the recent deaths of elderly persons in Norway were caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine of Pfizer-BioNTech.

This needs context.

STATEMENT

In defending the controversial purchase of COVID-19 vaccine produced by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech, Duterte taunted some senators for supposedly favoring Pfizer over Sinovac. He said:

Ayan ‘yung sa Pfizer ... gusto ninyong Pfizer, kayong mga senador. In Norway, 25 persons died after receiving Pfizer vaccination. Gusto ninyo? Mag-order kami para sa inyo. Lahat kayo ... apparently … mas bilib kayo sa

(That’s for Pfizer ... you want Pfizer, you senators. In Norway, 25 persons [have] died after receiving Pfizer vaccination. Do you want it? We will order it for you. All of you … apparently, you believe in [Pfizer vaccine]).”

He added:

“Almost everybody na kilala ko (I know) are scrambling to buy itong (this) Pfizer. Well, to me, I think it’s a good one. If you want to follow the experience of Norway, go ahead. Nobody would stop you.”

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office, Talk to the People of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Jan. 18, 2021, watch from 1:34 to 2:11 and 13:55 to 14:13
FACT

The reported deaths of elderly persons — aged 75 and above — after receiving Pfizer jabs “do not imply that there is a causal relationship between the deaths and the vaccine,” according to a Jan. 15 statement of the Norwegian Medicines Agency (NMA).

It cited that an average of 45 persons die every day, or 300 people each week, in Norwegian nursing homes or similar institutions. Considering that the first round of vaccinations involved mostly patients in nursing homes who were very frail or terminally ill, the NMA said “deaths will inevitably occur shortly after the vaccine is administered.” Further, it said:

“The reports on many of these deaths state that no link with vaccination is suspected and that the event was due to an underlying illness suffered by the patient, but that the death is being reported for the sake of completeness.”

Source: Norwegian Medicines Agency, Weekly report on suspected adverse drug

reactions to coronavirus vaccines, Jan. 14, 2021

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The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) noted that even relatively mild side effects can have serious consequences to those who are with severe frailty. The doctors of these patients must make “careful overall assessment” to decide whether the elderly people living with frailty will be advised to take the vaccine, the NIPH information sheet added.

As of Jan. 21, the NMA has processed a total of 30 out of 33 deaths for the weekly updates of adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines. The report added:

“In the case of some of the most frail patients, it cannot be ruled out that relatively mild adverse reactions following vaccination contributed to a more severe course in their general condition or underlying illness, leading to death of the patient.”

Common side effects of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shots include tiredness, headache, and muscle pain, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fact sheet on Pfizer’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), a provisional permit issued to unregistered drugs or vaccines.

Pfizer-BioNTech, developed by the United States pharmaceutical firm Pfizer Inc. and German biotechnology company BioNTech SE, was the first vaccine manufacturer to receive an EUA in the Philippines on Jan. 14.

Nursing home residents are included in the priority group for vaccination because they are at “very high risk” of developing severe illness or death from COVID-19, the NMA said.

Meantime, senators have denied Duterte’s statement that they prefer the Pfizer vaccine over the other brands.

“It has never been about choosing a particular brand. The origin of the vaccine is inconsequential for as long as it is guaranteed safe, effective, and available on time,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a press statement on Jan. 19.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, in a tweet posted on Jan. 19, also rebuffed the claim.

“I wonder who gave PRRD the wrong info that senators favor Pfizer? We do not! We favor any vaccine CORRECTLY PRICED! Properly procured [and] distributed!”

In a privilege speech on Jan. 18 about the National Vaccination Program, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said there was an “attempt to overprice the Sinovac vaccines.”

‘Misinformation’

The news about the COVID vaccine-related deaths in Norway have quickly spread across the world, including the Philippines. VERA Files has fact-checked an infographic with over 74,000 shares, bearing the misleading information. (VERA FILES FACT CHECK: No direct link found between Pfizer vaccine and deaths in Norway)

A COVID-19 Vaccine Communication handbook published by Sci Beh, a team consisting of scientists and volunteers, stressed the importance of the “transparent and effective risk communication,” especially on the awareness of the cultural and emotional differences between countries:

“Some tragic events will happen after a vaccination, even when the vaccine has nothing to do with it. It is important not to jump to the conclusion that there is a connection between the vaccination and those events (heart attack, strock, new diagnosis of cancer, death).”

VERA Files has also looked into the impact of misinformation on vaccine confidence as it debunked multiple viral posts related to vaccine misinformation. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK YEARENDER: Hoaxes, myths precede COVID-19 vaccine rollout)

In a public briefing on Jan. 19, Rolando Enrique Domingo, director general of FDA Philippines, said the regulatory agency is keen on issuing guidelines, limiting the use of the vaccine on very old and sickly persons.

After reviewing the scientific information and data on the deaths of the elderly patients who received the Pfizer vaccine, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) subcommittee on Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) said Pfizer’s immunization remains “favorable” to the elderly. WHO-GACVS said it “does not suggest any revision” to the recommendations on the safety of the Pfizer vaccine.

Countries should continue monitoring the safety and routine after-care of the vaccine recipients, the WHO-GACVS said. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Getting to know the COVID-19 vaccine prospects in the Philippines)


Sources

Senate of the Philippines, Privilege Speech on the National Vaccination Program, Jan. 18, 2021

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Talk to the People of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Jan. 18, 2021

RTVMalacanang, Kumusta Po Mahal Kong Kababayan | Meeting on COVID-19 Concerns and Talk to the People on COVID-19, Jan. 19, 2021

GMA News Online, Senators deny preference for Pfizer after Duterte’s mocking remark, Jan. 19, 2021

Inquirer.net, Senators prefer Pfizer? Hontiveros says it’s Palace showing preference for China vaccine, Jan. 19, 2021

Philstar, Senators deny preference for Pfizer jabs, stress oversight function after Duterte lashes out, Jan. 19, 2021

Senate of the Philippines, Statement of Senator Risa Hontiveros on Senate’s alleged preference for Pfizer vaccine, Jan. 19, 2021

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto official Twitter, I wonder who gave PRRD the wrong info...!, Jan. 19, 2021

Reported deaths in Norway

>Misinformation on Norway deaths


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

FOR FURTHER READING

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