Svein Andersen, 67 years-old resident of 'Ellingsrud home' and first in Norway to receive the vaccine is given the Pfizer-Biontech Covid-19 corona virus vaccine by Nurse Maria Golding in Oslo, Norway, on December 27, 2020. (AFP / Fredrik Hagen)

Social media posts mislead on Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations in Norway

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Multiple Facebook posts shared repeatedly in January 2021 claim 23 people are “dead from” the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in Norway. The claim is missing context: as of January 22, 2021, health authorities in Norway have said there was no direct causal link between the deaths and the Covid-19 vaccinations.

This Facebook post shared the misleading claim on January 16, 2021. It shows a file photo of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine vials.

The graphic is overlaid with text that reads: "23 people dead from vaccine / Around 23 nursing home patients have allegedly died after being injected with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Norway. Those who died are elderly and have existing conditions."

A screenshot of the misleading post, taken on January 21, 2021

The graphic circulated online after public health authorities in Norway disclosed there were at least 33 deaths among elderly people who received their first coronavirus vaccine dose.

“Norway said Monday no link had been established between Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine and post-vaccination deaths in the country, but recommended doctors consider the overall health of the most frail before giving them the jab,” AFP reported here on January 19, 2021.

An identical graphic was also shared here, here and here on Facebook.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made a similar misleading claim in this speech on January 18, 2021. He said: “In Norway, 25 persons died after receiving Pfizer vaccination.”

This claim is missing context: health authorities in Norway said no direct causal link has been established between the coronavirus vaccinations and deaths.

"Fatal incidents among these severely frail patients following vaccination do not imply a causal relationship between Covid-19 vaccination and death," Dr. Sara Viksmoen Watle, senior physician at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), said in this official press release on January 19, 2021. 

This AFP report on January 19 quotes NIPH director Camilla Stoltenberg saying that of the 13 cases analysed in detail so far: “They are people of advanced age, are frail and have serious illnesses, all of them. When it comes to causes there hasn't been any analysis done yet."

She continued: “It is important to remember that on average about 45 people die every day at nursing homes in Norway, so it's not given that this represents any excess mortality or that they are related to the vaccines.

"It's not impossible that some of those who have gotten the vaccine are so frail that maybe you should have reconsidered and not given them the vaccine, because they are so sick that they might have become worse from the normal side effects as the body reacts and builds up immunity.”

Steinar Madsen, medical director of the Norwegian Medicines Agency, also told AFP on January 19: "In no way have we said that there is a link between the vaccine and these deaths, but we are carefully studying each case to be sure."

On January 18, 2021, the European Medicines Agency announced: "The EMA is currently examining all deaths in older people after vaccination and will provide information if necessary. So far, no deaths in older people have been attributed to vaccination with Comirnaty [name of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine] to date."

AFP debunked a similar misleading claim in German here. The social media posts falsely said Norway had halted its Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccination drive.

UPDATE: This article was updated on January 28, 2021 to substitute the word "misleading" in the opening paragraph to "missing context".