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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.

For members

HEALTH

Ticks in Denmark: How to protect yourself and what to do if you get bitten

Thousands of people in Denmark are bitten by ticks each year, especially during the summer months. Although most people are left unaffected, an estimated three thousand cases a year in Denmark turn into Lyme disease.

Ticks in Denmark: How to protect yourself and what to do if you get bitten

The humid and warm weather Denmark has experienced so far this year could make ticks even more common than usual this summer, an official said.

Ticks (skovflåter) can be found all over Denmark in forests, meadows, and long grass. They are particularly active during the summer months and increase in number if the weather has been warm and humid. So if you’re hiking, camping or berry-picking this summer, there’s a risk of getting a tick bite (skovflåtbid).

What are ticks?

Ticks are small, spider-like creatures which vary in size, usually between 1mm to 1cm long. They do not fly or jump but climb on to animals or humans as they brush past. Once a tick bites into the skin, it feeds on blood for a few days before dropping off. In Denmark, ticks are often found on rodents or deer and they are particularly prevalent between May and October. 

Lyme Disease (Borreliose

In Denmark, the most common disease ticks transmit is Lyme disease and around 15 per cent of ticks in Denmark’s forests carry this.

It is not known exactly how many people in Denmark get Lyme disease every year, but it is estimated that there are a few thousand cases.

However this is a very small percentage of those who have been bitten by a tick. Broadcaster TV2 has reported that in 98 per cent of cases, people do not get ill from a tick bite.

“If you remove the tick within 24 hours, you most likely won’t get Lyme disease, as it takes longer than this for the bacteria, called borrelia, to transfer to the bloodstream,” Peter Andersen, senior medical officer at the State Serum Institute’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Prevention department, told The Local.

Andersen said that humid and warm weather in Denmark so far this year has caused a high number of ticks.

For those who do develop Lyme disease, the symptoms usually appear between two and six weeks after the bite, but sometimes longer.

Some people can get flu-like symptoms a few days or weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. Children may complain of stomach ache, lose their appetite or lack energy.

But the most obvious sign of Lyme disease is a red circular rash around the bite.

“If you’ve had a tick bite, observe the area to check you don’t get a circular rash, which can indicate you’ve been infected. If this happens, contact a doctor to get treatment. Most infections will be treated with penicillin,” Andersen said, adding that treating Lyme disease is straight forward.

“But the danger is if you don’t acknowledge the rash, then the disease can spread to the nervous system,” Andersen warned.

This is called neuroborreliosis and occurs in around one in ten of of Lyme disease cases.

The symptoms of neuroborreliosis typically appear as headaches and neck or back stiffness and radiating nerve pain or muscle paralysis, typically in the face.

People with neuroborreliosis need to be treated in hospital.

There were 216 cases of neuroborreliosis in Denmark last year, according to the State Serum Institute, the country’s infectious disease control agency. That’s an increase from 197 cases in 2020 and 171 cases in 2019.

Most cases each year are detected between July and September and neuroborreliosis most frequently occurs in children aged 5-10 and adults aged 60-70.

TBE – Tick-borne encephalitis (flåtbåren hjernebetændelse)

This is more rare and is a viral brain infection caused by a particular tick bite. Flu-like symptoms can occur a week or more after the bite and can develop to include nausea, dizziness, and in around a third of cases, severe problems. 

In Denmark, TBE cases tend to only occur on Baltic Sea island Bornholm, where there are around 3 cases a year. There have been two reported cases in North Zealand in 2008 and 2009.

In Denmark, a TBE vaccination is recommended for people who travel regularly in areas with TBE. There isn’t a vaccination for Lyme disease.

What if I get bitten by a tick?

If you do find a tick, you should remove it quickly with a special tick remover (available at all pharmacies), tweezers or your nail. The sooner you can do this, the lower the risk the tick will be able to infect you.

The important thing is making sure you remove the whole tick, by grabbing it as close to the skin as possible and pulling slowly. Then wash and clean the bite, and contact a doctor if you’re worried.

Prevention

If you’ll be spending time in wooded areas with long grass, especially those known to have a high tick presence, you should wear boots along with long sleeved light clothing so you can see the ticks, and tuck trousers into socks. Mosquito repellent has also been proven to help deter ticks.

“Proper clothing is a good prevention but it’s not always realistic to wear long sleeves and trousers when it’s warm. So if you have been outside in nature, you should check yourself in the evening or get a family member to check you for ticks,” Andersen suggested to The Local.

Ticks tend to bite around thin areas of the skin such as kneecaps, groin, armpits and hairline. In children, they can often be found on their scalp and behind the ears.

“Ticks are very small and look like a tiny dot so they can be easily missed. They start to enlarge when they suck blood and then the red rash can appear,” Andersen said. 

Despite their high presence, ticks shouldn’t put you off enjoying Denmark’s nature this summer; keeping vigilant to the tiny black insects should keep any tick-related illness at bay.

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