Two small clusters of deaths after COVID-19 vaccination have been reported among nursing homes in Kentucky and Arkansas.
In Kentucky, four seniors died the same day of their vaccination on Dec. 30, 2020. Three of the four who passed away reportedly already had had coronavirus prior to getting vaccinated.
In Arkansas, four seniors died at a long term care facility about a week after their vaccination. All tested positive for COVID-19 after vaccination.
The deaths are reported in a federal database called VAERS, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
Deaths after vaccination don’t necessarily mean the vaccine is to blame. Of those receiving coronavirus vaccines, many are elderly and frail, or already suffering from serious illnesses. That makes it difficult to know whether there’s a connection.
Kentucky Nursing Home Deaths
According to VAERS reports, the Kentucky deaths occurred on Dec. 30 after vaccinations with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. An ill 88-year-old woman who was “14 + days post covid” was given the Pfizer-BioNTech shot while she was “unresponsive in [her] room.” She died within an hour and a half (914961-1). An 88-year-old who was “15 days post covid” got the shot, was monitored for 15 minutes afterward, and passed away within 90 minutes (914994-1). A third report says an 88-year-old woman who was “14 + days post covid” vomited four minutes after receiving her shot, became short of breath, and passed away that night (915562-1). And an 85-year-old woman vaccinated at 5 p.m. was “found unresponsive” less than two hours later and died shortly after (915682-1).
In response to questions about the Kentucky cluster, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said its experts noted “no pattern … among the [Kentucky] cases that would indicate a concern for the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Scientists differ on whether people who have had coronavirus, like the Kentucky patients, should receive the COVID-19 vaccination at all. The CDC insists it’s safe for people who have recovered from COVID-19 to get vaccinated and that there’s no minimum interval recommended between infection and vaccination.
“Vaccination should be offered to persons regardless of history of prior symptomatic or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19] infection,” it states.
But other scientists say vaccinating people who are already considered immune after a natural COVID-19 infection wastes valuable doses of vaccines when there are shortages. And neither Pfizer’s nor Moderna’s studies showed any benefit to vaccinating previously infected patients.
The Kentucky patients were vaccinated shortly after the CDC disseminated false information on this point. The CDC claimed studies showed that vaccines are effective for people who have had COVID-19. The disinformation was given on the agency’s website, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and in a webinar instruction to medical professionals.
In the webinar, the CDC’s Dr. Sarah Oliver falsely stated, “Data from both clinical trials suggests that people with prior infection are still likely to benefit from vaccination.”
Under pressure from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who first flagged the CDC’s incorrect information in December, the agency recently issued a correction but used wording that still falsely implies studies showed that the vaccines helped people previously infected with COVID-19.
Meantime, preliminary results from a study co-authored by a team of more than two dozen researchers noted that people infected with COVID-19 in the past “experience systemic side effects with a significantly higher frequency” after vaccination than others.
The CDC confirms that it’s monitoring reports that people who’ve already had COVID-19 seem to be suffering significantly more frequent or more severe reactions after vaccination, or “reactogenicity,” than those who didn’t have COVID-19.
“CDC is aware of reports of increased reactogenicity (such as fever, chills, and muscle aches) in persons who have had COVID-19,” said a spokesman.
Arkansas Nursing Home Deaths
Four nursing home deaths in Arkansas occurred after vaccination with the Moderna-manufactured vaccine. All four patients tested positive for COVID-19 after vaccination, according to the VAERS reports. But there’s no indication as to whether they had coronavirus at the time of their vaccination or acquired it after their shot.
A 65-year-old man (921547-1) who received the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 2, 2021, died two days later, with the VAERS report noting that he had COVID-19. Three other Arkansas seniors died about a week after receiving the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 22, 2020. The person reporting the death of an 82-year-old man (917117-1) six days after his shot said he was vaccinated in an attempt to “mitigate his risk” and that “this was unsuccessful and [the] patient died.” The VAERS report notes, “After vaccination, patient tested positive for COVID-19.”
Two elderly women, ages 90 (917790-1) and 78 (917793-1), were vaccinated the same day as the 65-year-old man and also tested positive for COVID-19 about a week after their shots and died. According to the unnamed person who reported the 90-year-old’s death, “the vaccine did not have enough time to prevent COVID 19” and “There is no evidence that the vaccination caused patient’s death. It simply didn’t have time to save her life.” The person who reported the 78-year-old’s death claimed she died “as a result of COVID-19 and her underlying health conditions and not as a result of the vaccine.”
In response to questions about the Arkansas cluster, the CDC said, “Surveillance data to date do not indicate excess deaths among elderly patients receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.” Overall, says the agency, the number of deaths at long term care facilities after COVID-19 vaccinations is no higher than what would be expected to occur naturally.
Separately, the CDC is monitoring the impact of the vaccines on already-frail patients such as the chronically ill in nursing homes.
In Norway, alarm bells sounded when 23 people died shortly after vaccination. After investigating 13 of the deaths, Norway’s medical agency has concluded side effects that are common with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, such as fever, nausea, and diarrhea, “may have contributed to fatal outcomes in some of the frail patients.”
“There is a possibility that these common adverse reactions, that are not dangerous in fitter, younger patients and are not unusual with vaccines, may aggravate underlying disease in the elderly,” said Steinar Madsen, medical director of the Norwegian Medicines Agency.
A World Health Organization (WHO) expert panel disagrees. It says the deaths “are in line with the expected, all-cause mortality rates and causes of death in the sub-population of frail, elderly individuals, and the available information does not confirm a contributory role for the vaccine in the reported fatal events.”
But one unanswered question is whether patients who are both frail and have already had COVID-19 might suffer a double-whammy that puts them at greater risk when vaccinated. First, those with a previous COVID-19 infection might be more likely to suffer adverse events upon vaccination, according to scientific reports. Second, their frailty may make them less able to handle the adverse events, as Norway’s medical agency found with some patients.
In the United States, VAERS reports contain numerous other cases of elderly, frail people who’d had COVID-19, got vaccinated, and died.
A 96-year-old Ohio woman tested positive for COVID-19 in November, got the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 28, 2020, in a rehab facility after a fall, and died that afternoon (915920-1).
A 94-year-old Michigan man at a senior living facility who had COVID-19 and other illnesses received the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 2, 2021, and died of cardiac arrest two days later (918487-1).
A 91-year-old Michigan woman with Alzheimer’s and other illnesses at a senior living facility who had tested positive for COVID-19 received the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 30, 2020. She died four days later (924186-1).
And an 85-year-old California woman with Alzheimer’s and other disorders at a senior living facility received the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine on Jan. 5, 2021, and was found dead the same day. After her vaccination, an earlier COVID-19 test from Jan. 3 returned positive, though she’d had no symptoms (924456-1).
In other cases, elderly, frail patients tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after vaccination.
A 104-year-old woman in New York received the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 30, 2020. The next day, a COVID-19 test was done and came back positive. She became ill the following day and died on Jan. 4, 2021 (920832-1).
And a 71-year-old New York man received the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 21, 2020, developed a fever and respiratory distress, and tested positive for COVID-19. He was given Remdesivir. He died after 6 days (922977-1).
A WHO vaccine safety subcommittee reviewed reports of deaths among the frail, elderly after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The members determined, two weeks ago, there’s no cause for concern. “The benefit-risk balance of [Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine] BNT162b2 remains favorable in the elderly, and does not suggest any revision, at present, to the recommendations around the safety of this vaccine,” said the WHO officials.
Pfizer, Moderna, and CDC Responses
In response to questions for this report, Pfizer issued a statement saying: “We take adverse events that are potentially associated with our COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b2, very seriously. We closely monitor all such events and collect relevant information to share with global regulatory authorities. Based on ongoing safety reviews performed by Pfizer, BioNTech and health authorities, BNT162b2 retains a positive benefit-risk profile for the prevention of COVID-19 infections.”
Pfizer said that millions of people have been vaccinated and “serious adverse events, including deaths that are unrelated to the vaccine, are unfortunately likely to occur at a similar rate as they would in the general population.”
Pfizer didn’t answer whether it has concluded that any deaths might be linked to vaccination. It also wouldn’t answer whether it has looked at any clusters of deaths, or noted any patterns or areas of concern. And the company wouldn’t say whether it recommends that those recently or currently infected with COVID-19 get vaccinated.
Moderna didn’t answer our questions or request for information and comment.
Currently, the CDC recommends vaccination for people who’ve already had coronavirus.
The agency didn’t directly answer the question of whether it’s safe for people to get vaccinated while they have an active COVID-19 infection. A CDC spokesman said that deferring vaccination is recommended in those instances, but didn’t say whether it was due to a safety issue.
“Vaccination of persons with known current SARS-CoV-2 infection should be deferred until the person has recovered from the acute illness (if the person had symptoms) and criteria have been met for them to discontinue isolation,” says the CDC. “This recommendation applies to persons who develop SARS-CoV-2 infection before receiving any vaccine doses as well as those who develop SARS-CoV-2 infection after the first dose but before receipt of the second dose.”