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COVID-19

No European deaths directly tied to Covid-19 vaccine, say scientists

Scientists in Europe say evidence available so far does not incriminate the new anti-Covid vaccines in the numerous deaths of elderly and frail people shortly after they had received the coronavirus vaccine.

No European deaths directly tied to Covid-19 vaccine, say scientists
A Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine being prepared. Andy Buchanan / AFP

Health agencies stress however that the vast majority of post-vaccination fatalities were elderly, already vulnerable and often sick.

Here's a review of the situation:

Elderly, vulnerable

Norway sparked alarm last week when it reported the deaths of 33 of some 20,000 retirement home residents who had received a first shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

At least 13 of the fatalities were not only very elderly but also considered frail with serious ailments, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said.

While it noted that no analysis had yet been carried out on the causes of the deaths, it suggested that with the aged and vulnerable the normal side effects of vaccination such as fever or nausea could have contributed.

Outside Norway the news raised widespread concern and fed anti-vaccine scepticism, prompting the authorities to stress that no link had been established between the vaccine and post-jab deaths.

READ MORE: How has Norway reacted to elderly Covid vaccine deaths?

In France, of 800,000 people vaccinated, nine deaths of chronically ill residents of care and retirement homes were recorded by Friday.

The national medicines agency ANSM said that based on available evidence, “Nothing leads to the conclusion that the reported deaths were linked to vaccination.”

Other examples include 13 deaths of elderly people recorded in Sweden and seven in Iceland, all with no link established.

In Portugal, a care worker died two days after being inoculated but the justice ministry said a post-mortem found no direct link.

France's interior ministry on January 18 listed 71 “observations of death” in Europe of people who had the inoculation, but offered no further details.

Continued monitoring

The European Medicines Agency said that despite the deaths, “to date no specific concerns have been identified with Comirnaty”, the commercial name for the Pfizer shot.

The EMA noted that the authorities investigate fatalities to determine whether the vaccine was responsible.

National and European agencies check any problems with vaccinations reported by health professionals, pharmaceutical firms and patients themselves.

For the moment, the number and type of deaths among those vaccinated are not considered abnormal, with no cause-and-effect relationship identified.

In many countries — such as France, Norway, Britain and Spain — the frail and elderly are first in line for vaccinations.

“It is not unexpected that some of these people may naturally fall ill due to their age or underlying conditions shortly after being vaccinated, without the vaccine playing any role in that,” the UK medicines regulator MHRA said.

Transparency, reassurance 

The deaths are a highly sensitive issue, and approaches to informing the public vary.

France and some Nordic countries have reported post-vaccination deaths and detailed the potential side effects of the jabs even if no link has been established.

But Britain's MHRA said it would make a statement at a later date, possibly seeking to avoid spreading alarm.

“We will publish details of all suspected reactions reported in association with approved Covid-19 vaccines, along with our assessment of the data on a regular basis in the future,” it said.

In any event, European health officials say the deaths do not call into question the safety of the vaccines.

Norway has not changed its vaccination rollout, even if it has recommended doctors consider the overall health of the most frail before giving them the jab, the policy of numerous other countries.

Globally, more than 60 million doses have been received in at least 64 countries or territories, according to an AFP tally on Saturday.

HEALTH

Shortage of medicines in Spanish pharmacies grows by 150 percent

Spanish pharmacies are increasingly struggling to get the proper supply of certain medicines such as paediatric amoxicillin and some anti-diabetic drugs.

Shortage of medicines in Spanish pharmacies grows by 150 percent

In 2022 Spanish pharmacies experienced supply problems with 403 medicines, according to Spain’s General Council of Pharmaceutical Colleges (CGCOF).

Though this figure represents just 5 percent of the total 20,000 medicines sold in Spain, it is an increase of 150 percent compared to 2021 and represents what experts have deemed a “worrying” trend that is rising after two years of decline. The shortages last an average of four or five weeks.

This was the warning made by the CGCOF based on its data on the supply of medicines (CisMED), which is focused on ‘supply alert’ notices provided by almost 10,000 of the 22,000 pharmacies across Spain.

READ ALSO – Reader question: Are there limits on bringing medicines into Spain?

On average in 2022, more than 70 medicines were identified as suffering from shortages per week. The weekly average for 2021 was 28 incidents and in 2020 it was 41.

Of these shortages, experts say they are especially pronounced in medicines for the nervous system and cardiovascular groups, and “very significantly” pronounced with paediatric amoxicillin and some anti-diabetic drugs.

Medicines for the nervous system made up around 20 percent of the incidents, followed by cardiovascular therapeutics, with 19 percent, digestive 14 percent, and respiratory 13 percent.

READ ALSO: Pharmacies in Spain will be able to sell medical marijuana by the end of 2022

Call for calm

Stark as this statistic may seem out of context, however, it does not suggest that shelves in Spanish pharmacies are bare nor that Spaniards are being turned away by out-of-stock pharmacists.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, President of the CGCOF, Jesús Aguilar, soothed fears by drawing distinctions between different types of shortages, one, he said, was “when there is none for anyone,” and the other a lack of supply “when there is none today but there will be tomorrow, or when there is none here but there is there”. 

Spain, he said, was suffering the second, adding that pharmacists can always replace or find alternative medicines. “Citizens have to be calm. It’s under control. We have the problem when it comes to looking for the medicine, not the citizens,” he added.

Causes

The causes of the shortages of certain medicines in Spain are various, but many stem from a combination of the centralised nature of production, meaning some medicines are produced only in certain parts of the world or even single factories, and a shortage of raw materials and packaging from Asian countries where production has been slow to recover from the pandemic shutdown, as well as the low price of medicines in Spain.

The issue is “a multifactorial problem that comes from problems with the increasingly globalised nature of drug manufacturing,” Aguilar said. “This supply problem has been affecting Spain for years, as well as the rest of Europe and the world.”

Farmahelp

To try and ease the supply shortages, the CGCOF has launched a new campaign to expand ‘Farmahelp’, a collaborative network of pharmacies that already has almost 6000 participating branches.

The Farmahelp app allows patients to find medicines in nearby pharmacies when they are unavailable and connects the pharmacy branches so they can update one another about the availability of medicines.

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