Vaccine ruled out in death of two men

Health experts said that no case of serious or severe AEFI or death has been attributable to vaccination till date ( Pic : Ministry of Health)

Post-mortem report confirms the two men who died after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine were unrelated to vaccination but caused by head injury following a fall because of alcohol withdrawal seizure and with a history of recurrent attacks

Lhakpa Tshering

While adverse reactions were anticipated, it is a matter of concern that at least two people died after being administered the Covid-19 vaccine since the massive drive began on 27 March in the country.

However, it was confirmed by the ministry of health that the deaths were ‘unrelated’ to or with no link to the vaccine.

According to the preliminary reports of two beneficiaries, the experts concluded that some other medical ailments caused the deaths and immunization was not the reason. Doctors say the observations were uneventful during the stay of 30-minutes at the vaccination centers.

A 49-year-old man from Chhumey in Bumthang was the first recipient to die after taking Covid-19 jab. He had taken the vaccination on 29 March at 12:26-pm at Chhumey Technical Training Institute (TTI) vaccination post and died on the morning of 31 March at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH).

A member of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), Dr. Guru P. Dhakal, said that the post-mortem report has revealed the immediate cause of death as head injury following fall because of alcohol withdrawal seizure with similar past episodes.

The man had abstained from drinking alcohol on the day of vaccination to prepare for the vaccine. And he had also a history of seizures following alcohol withdrawal frequently. “Which means this was not the first time he had the seizure,” he said, adding that the wife had also given similar episodes of seizures following alcohol withdrawal and spontaneous recovery.

The event occurred 12 hours after the vaccination. According to his wife, the man went to the toilet at around 12-am on the same day of vaccination where he was found having generalized seizures. This lasted for about a minute followed by postictal drowsiness without return of consciousness.

Dr. Guru P. Dhakal said that the patient was kept overnight at home for observation thinking he would wake up as in the past, thereby, delayed hospital admission. “He had a history and evidence of fall and bleed inside the brain,” he added. “But this time the bleeding was more severe compared to before.”

As the patient did not even wake up at around 10-am, he was brought to Wangdichhoeling hospital in an ambulance at 11-am and was then referred to JDWNRH around 3-pm after doctors found the man had suffered head injuries. “We could not airlift him because of the bad weather condition and he was brought by road,” said the doctor.

Reaching the national referral hospital unconsciously, an urgent computerized tomography (CT) scan was performed which revealed a large extradural hematoma, and acute and chronic subdural hematoma while also noted a linear fracture of the skull bone.

Doctors at the hospital had immediately taken him up for surgery, but he died before that could happen. Also, his CT scan result showed that he had old blood inside the brain, says Dr. Guru P. Dhakal. “It’s not only the fresh blood inside the brain.”

The second death reported was a male aged 84 years from Yalang in Shumar, PemaGatshel. He was administered the vaccine 40 hours – 2:46-pm on 29 March at Khothakpa Primary School vaccination post – before his untoward demise around 6:55-am on 31 March at home.

It maintained that the vaccine did not induce fatality. Dr. Guru P. Dhakal said that the deceased had pre-existing comorbidities, mainly severe uncontrolled bronchial asthma with a history of recurrent attacks. The person had a medication history of deriphyllin, salbutamol tablets, and a salbutamol inhaler. 

He reported no adverse effects until 40 hours of vaccination but developed respiratory distress around 4-am on 31 March at his home which did not improve with a salbutamol inhaler. And he was declared dead with respiratory failure because of life-threatening asthma before he could be hospitalized – when the emergency medical responders arrived.

Given that the event occurred after 40 hours of vaccination, the doctor said, it was unlikely that the vaccine was the cause. “If it is going to be fatal, it usually happens within 30-minutes,” he said.

“For asthma, they can aggravate it because of various reasons such as cold and allergic reaction. But he had no symptoms of allergic reaction,” Dr. Guru P. Dhakal said, adding that if the vaccine had aggravated his symptoms, then they would have called the hospital.

Based on the post-mortem reports, he said, the person used to have difficulty breathing even when going to the toilet. “So this is minimal exertion,” he added. “Somebody who has shortness of breath on minimal exertion means his asthma was not under control.”

The Chief Medical Officer of PemaGatshel Dzongkhag, DrBhimNathSuberi, also said the man had been on regular medication because of a daily asthma attack. “I have also prepared to refer him to Mongar regional hospital after the vaccination campaign,” he said, adding that the patient was very much fine for 40 hours after getting the Covid-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile, both the Dzongkhag Health Officer of Bumthang and PemaGatshel said there has been no complaint against the vaccination so far. And no complications have been reported among those who have taken the Covishield vaccine.

As of 4 April, the nationwide vaccination drive has immunized over 466,811 eligible populations, out of which 8,458 people developed adverse events following immunization (AEFI) with the majority complaining of headache, fever, and nausea, according to the provisional data of ongoing vaccination drive.

Health experts said that no case of serious or severe AEFI or death has been attributable to vaccination till date.