Duterte prematurely links Norway deaths to Pfizer vaccine. Were they?

January 19, 2021 - 6:16 PM
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte discusses matters with People's Republic of China State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who paid a courtesy call on the President at the Malacañang Palace on January 16, 2021. (Robinson Niñal/ Presidential photo)

(Updated 8:17 p.m.) President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said the government is willing to order COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech for senators who prefer them, despite reports in Norway of deaths among people who were inoculated by the vaccine.

In his televised national address aired Monday, Duterte cited deaths of 25 Norwegian patients who were vaccinated and failed to mention that they were elderly individuals.

“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,” Duterte said.

He specifically named opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who previously called on the government to prioritize its negotiation with Pfizer after its vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for “emergency use.”

Other senators who made similar calls are Senators Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and Sonny Angara.  

“Lahat kayo you apparently…Mas bilib kayo sa…Itong isa, ‘Senator Risa Hontiveros issued a similar call for the government to follow up Pfizer’s EU on approval of FDA,’” Duterte said.

He once again defended the government’s choice, Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine or CoronaVac, over other vaccine brands and argued that the countries administering the Chinese-developed jab have no reported deaths yet.

“Nandito kahapon si Ambasador ng China, sinabi sa akin, mayroong darating, huwag kayong mag-worry. Ang Sinovac was being used na sa Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, UAE, Abu Dhabi, Brazil. Wala namang nabalitaang patay,” Duterte said.

READ: Duterte says Filipinos can use Pfizer vaccine, but touts Sinovac deal

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, however, denied that senators favors Pfizer’s vaccine.

“I wonder who gave PRRD the wrong info that senators favor Pfizer? We do not! We favor any vaccine CORRECTLY PRICED! Properly procured n distributed!” he wrote in a tweet. 

On Tuesday, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines has already secured 25 million doses from Sinovac, 30 million doses from Novavax, 17 million doses from AstraZeneca and 20 million doses from Moderna.

What Pfizer and Norway said

Meanwhile, in citing the reported Norway deaths, Duterte, however, failed to mention the responses of Norway and Pfizer. They clarified that there was no link between the vaccination and the deaths.

Based on international reports, the 33 patients who died after being inoculated with Pfizer were nursing home residents aged 75 and above.

Steinar Madsen, medical director at the Norwegian Medicines Agency, was quoted in a Bloomberg report, explaining that the incident shows how fatal COVID-19 could be to severely ill patients.

“Clearly, COVID-19 is far more dangerous to most patients than vaccination. We are not alarmed,” Madsen said.

Norway prioritized the administration of the Pfizer vaccine to the elderly residents of its nursing homes.

As of Monday afternoon, Norway had already administered Pfizer jabs to all its nursing home population comprising over 48,000 elderly people.

Madsen recognized that in some cases, Pfizer jabs can “tip the patients into a more serious course of the underlying disease.”

“We can’t rule that out,” the medical director said.

The multinational pharmaceutical firm also stated that they are working closely with Norway’s health authorities to evaluate the reported deaths.

“Pfizer and BioNTech are aware of the reported deaths following administration of BNT162b2. We are working with the Norwegian Medicines Agency (NOMA) to gather all the relevant information,” said Pfizer-BioNTech.

Aside from Norway, Germany and Israel have also reported deaths following Pfizer vaccination. However, there are no confirmed evidence that these deaths are linked to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some Filipinos who are aware of the global COVID-19 vaccine development pointed out this information on social media. They claimed that Duterte only read headlines and failed to read the entire article about the Norway deaths.

Screenshot of a Facebook comment on Duterte’s remarks on Pfizer vaccine and Norway on Jan. 19, 2021. (Screenshot by Interaksyon)

Another Facebook user, meanwhile, questioned why the chief executive is not informing the public of the varying efficacy rates of Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine and the alleged smuggling of vaccines in the country.

Screenshot of a Facebook comment on Duterte’s remarks on Pfizer vaccine and Norway on Jan. 19, 2021. (Screenshot by Interaksyon)

Based on Pfizer’s website, its vaccine was tested to at least 150 clinical trial sites in six countries. The trial size covered 45,302 participants.