In a statement, the TGA said among those who died were people who had only weeks or months to live.
The deaths were associated fever, nausea and diarrhoea, relatively common short-lived side effects that some people experience after vaccination.
“It is not expected that these common adverse reactions following immunisation will be of significance in the vast majority of individuals vaccinated with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine,” the TGA said.
“We will continue to work with European regulators over the coming days to investigate this report and determine whether specific warnings about risks of vaccination in the very frail elderly or terminally ill should be potentially included in the product information for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which will be made available to all doctors and vaccinators.”
Mr Hunt said safety was the government’s top priority in any vaccine that was approved.
“There is no change in our time frames at this point but the medical regulator is completely empowered to make independent decisions,” he said.
“As further information is available, we’ll share that with the Australian public,” he said.
“We have been absolutely clear, and we remain absolutely clear, that safety is Australias number one priority.”
The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be the first to be approved and rolled out in Australia. The TGA’s approval could come by the end of January, with the government indicating it would start immunising people by mid to late February.
Maybe there are people who are just too sick and frail and they don’t get the vaccine.
Nancy Baxter, Melbourne University
While Norway has given priority to immunising aged care residents, Australia’s strategy will include them with aged care and frontline health workers, as well as border and quarantine workers in the initial phase.
The head of Melbourne University’s School of Population and Global Health, Nancy Baxter, said it would not shock if there was a delay while the TGA reviewed the data but it was important to keep the deaths in context.
“It’s important to understand in aged care in Norway there are 400 people who die each week anyway,” Professor Baxter said.
“Maybe there are people who are just too sick and frail and they don’t get the vaccine.”
The head of the University of NSW’s Kirby Institute biosecurity program, Raina MacIntyre, said the deaths in Norway were unlikely to affect Australia’s vaccination timetable.
She said Norwegian officials would need to compare the number of deaths of elderly people who had been vaccinated versus those who had not, but, based on her rough assessment, “it doesn’t look particularly concerning”.
“Serious reactions are not common in vaccines that get approval,” Professor MacIntyre said.
“You can get events that are temporary associated with a vaccine but that doesn’t mean it’s caused by vaccination.”
Labor has attacked the Morrison government for not launching its immunisation program sooner given other countries have started, although the government argues that Australia’s success in managing the pandemic has averted the need for emergency authorisation to dispense vaccines.
However, the government has only been able to secure 10 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine enough for 5 million people and will rely largely on AstraZeneca’s vaccine to immunise the population despite it having a lower efficacy rate.
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt batted back Liberal backbenchers’ calls for an early review of the caps on international arrivals after Emirates said it was suspending flights to the eastern seaboard.
While the spots for passengers will be reallocated to other airlines, states have halved their hotel quarantine caps until mid-February because of the threat of the more infectious UK strain of the virus.
The government has promised to underwrite another 20 repatriation flights to bring Australians home.

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