In disturbing news coming ahead of India beginning its mass vaccination drive from Saturday, Chinese publication Global Times on Friday said that health experts in the country have called on Norway and other countries to suspend the use of Pfizer's mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine, after at least 23 deaths were reported by the local news outlets post-vaccination.
As of Thursday, Norway has reported 23 deaths in connection with vaccination, the report said.
"So far, 13 of these have been assessed. Common side effects may have contributed to a severe course in frail elderly people," the Norwegian Medicines Agency posted on its website.
"All the deaths have occurred in frail, elderly patients in nursing homes. All are over 80 years old and some of them over 90," Norwegian media NRK reported.
The Norwegian Medicines Agency, however, admitted that the studies that form the basis for the temporary approval of the vaccine included very few people over the age of 85, and little is known about how any side effects will affect these age brackets.
But the agency said: "We assume that the side-effects will largely be the same in the elderly as in those over 65 years of age."
Pfizer was yet to reach to the report.
According to a Chinese immunologist, the new mRNA vaccine was developed in haste and had never been used on a large scale for the prevention of infectious disease, and its safety had not been confirmed for large-scale use in humans.
Two Covid-19 vaccines -- Comirnaty, from BioNTec/Pfizer and Moderna -- are being used in Norway.
The vaccines have been developed on mRNA technology and have received temporary approval in the EU, according to the report.
Norway launched a mass vaccination campaign at the end of December, with the very oldest citizens and residents of nursing homes being offered vaccination first, including those over the age of 85.
Chinese experts, however, said the death incident should be assessed cautiously to understand whether the death was caused by vaccines or other pre-existing conditions of these individuals.
Yang Zhanqiu, a virologist from Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Friday that the death incident, if proven to be caused by the vaccines, showed that the effect of the Pfizer vaccine and other mRNA vaccines is not as good as expected, "as the main purpose of mRNA vaccines is to heal patients".
"The mRNA vaccines teach human cells to make a protein to trigger an immune response; then, the immune response can protect people from getting infected if the real virus enters the body.
"Meanwhile, toxic substances may be developed throughout the process of mRNA vaccinations; thus, the safety of vaccines cannot be fully ensured," Yang was quoted as saying.
(With inputs from IANS)