By Daniel Llanto

About one out of four Metro Manila residents became unwilling to receive the coronavirus vaccines, including the US-based Pfizer, when it was reported that 23 senior citizens in Norway died after taking Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. 

This was brought to light by a recent non-commissioned survey by OCTA Research. 

Health Undersec. Maria Rosario Vergeire said the emergency-use authorization issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine will remain suspended, pending evidence that it caused the deaths of frail, elderly individuals in Norway. 

Vergeire was responding to reports that 23 individuals in Norway, 75 to 80 and with serious basic disorders died after being vaccinated.

“(Norway authorities) are still looking into it. They don’t think it is related, pero pinag-aaralan pa nila,” Vergeire said in an online briefing.

Wala pang sufficient evidence na ‘yan ang cause ng death kaya status quo muna tayo sa EUA (emergency use authorization) na ibinigay ng FDA sa Pfizer-BioNTech,” she added.

Parang ayaw ko pang mamatay, bata pa ‘ko. Sabagay, 86 na ako. Pero nakakatakot kasi kapag naiturok na ‘yun, hindi na puwedeng ulitin. Hindi na mababawi,” Janculan Nicolas said in a TV news interview. 

Norway earlier reported that the deaths of 23 seniors were “associated” with COVID-19 vaccination.  Health officials there said the deaths appeared to be linked to the side effects of the vaccine. The Norwegian Medicines Agency also said it was also possible that it was just a coincidence.

The agency stressed that such incidents are rare and only affect people who are extremely frail or have a severe illness.

Senior citizens’ rights advocate Romulo Macalintal said he was alarmed by the news but was still willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Unang una, dapat ding makita natin kung talagang ‘yun nga ang dahilan,” he said.

Basta’t sinertipikahan na talagang ang isang bakuna ay puwede nang magamit dito sa ating bansa ay hindi naman ako nag-aalala na magpabakuna. Marami na rin akong nakausap na mga senior citizens… handa silang magpabakuna. Sabi nga no’ng iba naman, ang iba pag-aaralan pa nila,” he added.

Dr. Lulu Bravo, executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, urged the public not to be quick to pass judgment on COVID-19 vaccines.

Maraming edad na 60 pataas. Sabi nga natin, vulnerable sila sa iba’t ibang klase ng sakit… na posibleng mangyari with or without vaccines,” she said.

So ‘yun ang dapat imbestigahan, kung talagang may relasyon ‘yan sa bakuna. Kasi kung wala naman, bakit mo naman i-be-blame ‘yung bakuna? Importante lang na makinig tayo sa mga experts.”

Malacañang on January 18 said it is hoping that the reported deaths of some senior citizens in Norway after receiving COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BionNTech would not affect its EUA in the Philippines.

For  presidential spokesman Harry Roque, all vaccines cannot claim 100 percent safety and efficacy.  “Kaya nga lang po ‘yung advantage ng paggamit ng bakuna outweighs the disadvantage,” he said.

So ‘yun po ang dahilan para mas malaki ‘yung urgency  na mabakunahan laban sa COVID-19 nang maiwasan ang pagkamatay sa COVID-19 kaysa doon sa kanyang possible side effects,” he added.

Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director Gen. Eric Domingo said the EUA conditions may be revised in case a vaccine product shows safety issues. Assuming the vaccine has adverse effects, he said the FDA can indicate in the EUA that the product could not be used with the elderly and people with severe allergies.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the Philippines will be more cautious in choosing the COVID-19 vaccine to be administered to the elderly after the deaths of the Norwegian senior citizens.