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Amid deaths among Norway’s aged after Pfizer shots, Duterte touts Sinovac anew

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday sneered at senators who favored the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech following the deaths of some old and frail people in Norway who had received the jab.

“Gusto ninyong Pfizer, kayong mga senador? In Norway, 25 persons died after receiving Pfizer vaccination. Gusto ninyo? Mag-order kami para sa inyo,” he said in his weekly national address.

At least 23 senior citizens in Norway aged 75 and over died after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the country reported last week. 

In an interview with Bloomberg on Monday, however, Norway's health authorities said they saw no evidence of a direct link between the deaths and the vaccine, and that they were expecting such an outcome from vaccinating the oldest and frailest people first.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency told the US news site that all the fatalities were over 75 and "already seriously ill."

“Clearly, COVID-19 is far more dangerous to most patients than vaccination,” said the agency's medical director Steinar Madsen. “We are not alarmed.”

However, Madsen also said they cannot rule out that the vaccine didn't "tip the patients into a more serious course of the underlying disease."

In an earlier report, the medicines regulator also said that common side effects of the vaccine such as fever and nausea "may have contributed to a severe course in elderly people who are frail."

Because of this, Norway's health authorities have changed their recommendation for the Pfizer vaccine.

“Norwegian Health Authorities have now changed [their] recommendation in relation to vaccination of the terminally ill (Clinical Frailty Scale 8 or higher),” BioNTech said, according to a Reuters report.

The Clinical Frailty Scale, a widely used system of classification in elderly care, defines degree 8 patients as approaching end of life and typically unable to “recover even from a minor illness.”

Madsen also told Bloomberg—which put the number of fatalities at 33—that Norway has vaccinated 48,000 people, including most of its nursing home residents, and that the reported fatalities make up “well under one out of 1,000.”

According to the Reuters report, an average of 400 people die each week in nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Norway.

There have been no similar reports of deaths in other countries where the vaccine is being administered.

Duterte boosts Sinovac

At the same briefing, Duterte slammed critics of Chinese firm Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac.

Duterte said Sinovac was already being used in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

“Ayaw ko ng mga tangent na mga tirado ninyo. ‘Eh bakit ba ito si Duterte Sinovac nang Sinovac?’ […] Kung sino ka man, ganito ‘yan, long before noong pumutok ito, tumawag na ako kay President Xi Jinping,” he said.

“Tapos sabi ko, 'Wala kaming resources. We do not know how to make it. Please do not forget the Philippines',” Duterte added.

Sinovac is still conducting Phase III trials of its vaccine. In Brazil, it only showed a “general efficacy” of 50.4 percent.

Duterte has several times expressed a preference for China's vaccines over those made by Western countries. — BM/NB, GMA News