Published: 12 January 2022

COVID-19

Adverse events following immunisation with COVID-19 vaccines: Safety Report #39 – 31 December 2021

Medsafe advises people NOT to make any decisions about vaccination based on information contained in this report. If you have questions or concerns about receiving a vaccine, please speak to a health care professional.

What you need to know – up to and including 31 December 2021

Note that counts may change due to receipt of additional information.

4,396

New AEFI reports since last update

(4,082 non-serious and 314 serious)

0

New safety signals (potential safety issues) have been identified

 

8,184,892

Total doses administered

(cumulative)

43,969

Total AEFI reports that were non-serious

2,015

Total AEFI reports that were serious

45,984

Total AEFI reports that were received

(cumulative)

  • The protective benefits of vaccination against COVID-19 far outweigh the potential risks of vaccination.
  • The Ministry of Health, Medsafe, the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring and manufacturers continue to closely monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. We’ll respond to any safety issues right away and will inform New Zealanders about any risks that arise in New Zealand.
  • For more information about Covid Vaccine Immunisation Programme, please go to Unite against COVID-19 or call Healthline 0800 611 116 to talk to someone about your concerns.
  • There were 4,082 non-serious and 314 serious reports since the last update. Sadly, we had 6 more notifications of death. Any possibility of a causal link is investigated as part of our routine investigations and no new safety concerns with the Comirnaty vaccine were raised by these reports. For information about reported deaths, please refer to the summary of reported deaths.
  • Up to 31 December 2021 a total of 8,184,892 doses of Comirnaty have been administered and 45,984 AEFIs were reported. This means that more than 8.1 million doses of Comirnaty were administered that did not result in a report of an adverse event. On average for every 10,000 people who are vaccinated 56 people report an AEFI. It is also important to keep in mind that a report can be submitted for any cause and is not necessarily associated with the vaccine.
  • The next safety report (#40) will be published on 16 February 2022, for the period ending 31 January 2021.
  • The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has been available in New Zealand since 26 November, and the adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) data for AstraZeneca will be reported in the safety report #40, for the period ending 31 January 2022.

Introduction

This page provides information on the number of adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) reports received for COVID-19 vaccines.

An AEFI is an untoward medical event which follows immunisation and does not necessarily have a causal relationship with the administration of the vaccine. The adverse event may be an unfavourable or unintended sign, abnormal laboratory finding, symptom or disease.

The national roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines commenced on 20 February 2021. The vaccine currently available in New Zealand is Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty). All medicines can cause side effects, the known side effects for Comirnaty are listed in the data sheet and consumer medicine information.

Suspected AEFI to COVID-19 vaccines are reported to the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring (CARM). The Ministry of Health (through Medsafe) contracts the collection of this information to CARM, based at the University of Otago in Dunedin. Medsafe is closely monitoring the AEFI reported from the use of the COVID-19 vaccine. Find out more about vaccine safety monitoring.

Medsafe and CARM thank everyone who has contributed to the monitoring of COVID-19 vaccines. Please continue to report any adverse events following immunisation.

Adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) reported

The information below includes:

  • AEFI reports by prioritised ethnicity and vaccine dose
  • AEFI reports by age band and vaccine dose
  • the top 10 most frequently reported AEFIs by vaccine dose
  • reported AEFIs by reporter type.

AEFI reports received by prioritised ethnicity and vaccine dose, up to and including 31 December 2021

Ethnicitya Dose 1 Dose 2 Dose 3 Total
Māori 2,299 1,658 85 4,042
Pacific Peoples 702 634 30 1,366
Asian 2,510 1,929 177 4,616
European or other 18,945 15,084 1,020 35,049
Unknownb 510 337 47 894
Total 24,966  19,642  1,359  45,967c

Notes:

  1. The prioritised ethnicity classification system allocates each person to a single ethnic group, based on the ethnic groups they identify with. Where people identify with more than one group, they are assigned in this order of priority: Māori, Pacific Peoples, Asian, and European/Other. So, if a person identifies as being Māori and New Zealand European, the person is counted as Māori. See Ethnicity Data Protocols for further information.
  2. There were 894 AEFI reports where the person’s ethnicity was not reported. Counts may change due to receipt of additional information. Ethnicity is not required for an AEFI report to be considered valid. See ‘Valid report’ in the Definitions section below.
  3. The total is different from the cumulative total above because it excludes 17 AEFI reports received for infants who did not receive the vaccine.

AEFI reports received by age band and vaccine dose, up to and including 31 December 2021

Age Dose 1 Dose 2 Dose 3 Total
10 - 19 years 2,655 1,500 8 4,173
20 - 29 years 5,014 3,563 222 8,799
30 - 39 years 5,551 4,335 278 10,164
40 - 49 years 4,313 3,732 266 8,311
50 - 59 years 3,649 3,156 286 7,091
60 - 69 years 2,216 1,926 184 4,326
70 - 79 years 1,067 985 87 2,139
80+ years 454 424 25 903
Unknowna 37 21 3 61
Total 24,966  19,642  1,359  45,967b

Notes:

  1. There were 61 AEFI reports where the person’s age was not reported. Counts may change due to receipt of additional information. Age is not required for an AEFI report to be considered valid. See ‘Valid report’ in the Definitions section below.
  2. The total is different from the cumulative total above because it excludes 17 AEFI reports received for infants who did not receive the vaccine.

Top 10 most frequently reported AEFIs, dose 1 and dose 2, up to and including 31 December 2021

Reaction Number any dose Number dose 1 Number dose 2 Number dose 3
Dizziness 14,231 8,577 5,350 304
Headache 14,185 6,292 7,331 562
Lethargy 11,918 5,188 6,230 500
Injection site pain 11,215 4,963 5,721 531
Nausea 9,829 4,998 4,519 312
Chest discomfort 8,523 4,610 3,701 212
Fever 6,251 1,950 3,930 371
Influenza-like illness 6,161 2,104 3,718 339
Shortness of breath 5,053 2,745 2,206 102
Numbness 4,790 2,751 1,936 103


Download a list of the top 50 most frequently reported AEFIs (any dose)..

Reported AEFIs by reporter type up to and including 31 December 2021

Reporter type Number of reportsa
Public Patient 18,178
CIR Vaccinator 12,709
Nurse 7,075
Other 3,910
General Practitioner 4,738
Public: On behalf of a patient 1,557
Pharmacist 307
Not specified 111
  1. The total number here differs from the total reported cases elsewhere because a single case can contain multiple reports from different sources.

Please note that one adverse event report, which represents one person, may report on more than one symptom. Reports are sent to CARM if the reporter suspects that the vaccine may have caused the event. This does not necessarily mean that the vaccine did cause the event.

The number of reports can be influenced by how many people are being vaccinated, media attention, the nature of the events (eg, how painful the vaccination was), and other factors which vary over time. Not everyone who has an adverse reaction reports it, and some people may report AEFIs after each vaccination. The information here shows the number of reports not the number of people who experienced an AEFI.

The information is limited by the information provided in the report and may change over time due to quality control procedures and/or receipt of additional information. Non-valid reports are not included in the data.

Summary of reported deaths

Up to and including 31 December 2021, a total of 133 deaths were reported to CARM after the administration of the Comirnaty vaccine. Following medical assessments by CARM and Medsafe it has been determined that:

  • 54 of these deaths are unlikely related to the COVID-19 vaccine
  • 58 deaths could not be assessed due to insufficient information
  • 19 cases are still under investigation.
  • 2 deaths were likely due to vaccine induced myocarditis (awaiting Coroner’s determination)

By chance, some people will experience new illnesses or die from a pre-existing condition shortly after vaccination, especially if they are elderly. Therefore, part of our review process includes comparing natural death rates to observed death rates following vaccination, to determine if there are any specific trends or patterns that might indicate a vaccine safety concern. See below for more information about these observed-versus-expected analyses.

To date, the observed number of deaths reported after vaccination is actually less than the expected number of natural deaths.

Mortalities by age group up to and including 31 December 2021 reported to CARM

Age Mortalitiesa
10 - 29 years 7
30 - 59 years 28
60 - 79 years 60
80+ years 38
  1. Counts may change due to receipt of additional information, for example, identification of duplicate reports.

Observed-versus-expected analyses

It is important to note that no conclusions should be made from these observed-versus-expected analyses in isolation. Other investigations looking at pre-existing risk factors are always required.

The analyses below show that the number of deaths recorded in the mortality register for people vaccinated with the Comirnaty vaccine is lower than expected based on the average number of deaths in previous years over the same number of days (natural death rate).

For these observed-versus-expected analyses, we compare the vaccinated population to natural (expected) rates (taken from past data). The comparison is done by dividing the observed rate of death in the vaccinated population by the expected rate to give the relative risk (RR).

Observed / Expected Rate = Relative Risk (RR)

The methods used to calculate the relative risk also provide a confidence interval (CI). The confidence interval is a range of values that we are fairly sure our true value lies in. We are using a 95 percent confidence interval (95% CI), which is the range that will include the true value 95 percent of the time. If both the relative risk AND the lower end of the confidence interval are greater than one (>1.0), this is statistically significant and could indicate an increased risk of death in the vaccinated population. This will be highlighted in the table when applicable.

We are monitoring people for 21 days after vaccination. This monitoring period was chosen because people can receive their second dose a minimum of 21 days after the first dose. Age-specific natural (expected) death rates were obtained for the period 2008–2019. One reason for the number of deaths in the vaccinated group appearing to be lower could be that healthcare professional of extremely frail patients give the advice not to get vaccinated.

These analyses do not consider causality and instead, report on all deaths that have occurred in the monitoring period (observed deaths). This results in a much higher number than those reported to CARM where the reporter (eg, family member or health care provider) might have had a suspicion the vaccine could have played a role. The number of observed deaths also includes deaths from other causes, such as deaths due to accidents, medical conditions, other medicines or medical treatments.

Please note that the mortality collections operate many weeks in arrears. This means that these observed-versus-expected analyses will only be updated once a month and will also be in arrears – for example, the tables below are for the period up to 31 December 2021.

Observed-versus-expected deathsa by age group from any cause, up to 21 days after dose 1, 19 February 2021 to 31 December 2021

Age Dose 1 – number administered Expected deathsb in monitoring period Observed deathsc in monitoring period Relative riskc
(95% confidence interval)
10 to 19 414,368 7.33 8 1.09d [0.47 – 2.15]
20 to 29 560,394 18.48 16 0.87 [0.49 – 1.41]
30 to 39 605,040 26.77 8 0.30 [0.13 – 0.59]
40 to 49 551,641 52.14 15 0.29 [0.16 – 0.47]
50 to 59 577,819 126.7 49 0.39 [0.29 – 0.51]
60 to 69 500,660 259.58 106 0.41 [0.33 – 0.49]
70 to 79 342,633 483.93 218 0.45 [0.39 – 0.51]
80+ 178,705 1,052.94 561 0.53 [0.49 – 0.58]
Total 3,731,260 2,027.87 981 0.48 [0.45 – 0.52]
  1. Expected and observed deaths among people who have received dose 1 of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine during the specified period, by age group. Inclusion criteria were: monitoring time of 21 days after receiving dose 1, all genders, all ethnicities, aged 12 years and older. The data was collected from the Mortality database.
  2. Data for expected death rates was obtained from the AESI background rate (SAFE) study provided by the University of Auckland. The age-specific background rates used are the average from 2008-2019.
  3. The observed deaths column (4th column) is a raw data observation, and this is used to calculate the relative risk (5th column).
  4. The relative risk of 1.09 does not indicate there is an increased risk of mortality in this age group because the lower end of the confidence interval is 0.47 (ie, <1.0). The COVID-19 Independent Safety Monitoring Board (CV-ISMB) has reviewed AEFIs in children and found that this group was not disproportionately affected by the vaccine. Medsafe will continue to monitor this closely.

Observed-versus-expected deathsa by age group from any cause, up to 21 days after dose 2, 19 February 2021 to 31 December 2021

Age Dose 2 – number administered Expected deathsb in monitoring period Observed deathsc in monitoring period Relative riskc
(95% confidence interval)
10 to 19 305,793 - - -
20 to 29 415,987 12.04 - -
30 to 39 488,297 19.22 - -
40 to 49 477,274 41.00 13 0.32 [0.17 – 0.54]
50 to 59 524,230 108.78 61 0.56 [0.43 – 0.72]
60 to 69 473,862 239.26 114 0.48 [0.39 – 0.57]
70 to 79 331,272 461.43 175 0.38 [0.33 – 0.44]
80+ 172,081 1,000.71 545 0.54 [0.50 – 0.59]
Total 3,188,796 1,887.08 915 0.54 [0.45 – 0.52]
  1. Expected and observed deaths among people who have received dose 2 of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine during the specified period, by age group. Inclusion criteria were: monitoring time of 21 days after receiving dose 2, all genders, all ethnicities, aged 12 years and older. The data was collected from the Mortality database.
  2. Data for expected death rates was obtained from the AESI background rate (SAFE) study provided by the University of Auckland. The age-specific background rates used are the average from 2008-2019.
  3. The observed deaths column is a raw data observation, and this is used to calculate the relative risk (5th column). Some cells could not be calculated because the numbers were too low (<6).

For further reading about the methodology used to analyse death rates, see:

Adverse events of special interest

Adverse events of special interest (AESI) are pre-specified medically significant events that have the potential to be causally associated with the vaccine and must be carefully monitored. AESI can be serious or non-serious and can include:

  • Events of interest due to their association with COVID-19 infection
  • Events of interest for vaccines in general (e.g., to the specific vaccine type or adjuvants).

The list of AESIs below takes into consideration the lists of AESIs from expert groups such as the Brighton Collaboration, manufacturers and other regulatory authorities. The AESI list changes based on the evolving safety profile of vaccines. It is important to note that although these adverse events may occur after being vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine in New Zealand, they are rare and may not necessarily be related to the vaccine. Medsafe and CARM review the reports to determine whether the vaccine may have played a role in the occurrence of these events.

Adverse events of special interest (AESI) up to and including 31 December 2021

AESI Category AESI Totala Background rateb
Immune system disorders Guillain-Barré Syndrome 20 273
Thrombocytopenia 33 4,325
Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS)c 0  
Anaphylaxisd 112 1,102
Cardiovascular system Myocardial infarction (heart attack) 58 16,347
Myocarditis/pericarditis 455 931
Blood and lymphatic system Thrombosis 51 2,863
Embolism 105 4,571
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) 95 519
Vasculitis 69 4,325
Haemorrhagee 120  
Hepato-gastrointestinal and renal system Acute kidney injury 20 38,631
Acute liver injury <6 420
Pancreatitis 10 6,137
Appendicitis 20 3,359
Nervous system Aseptic meningitis <6 744
Encephalitis <6 409
Stroke 85 14,776
Bell's Palsy/facial paralysis 164 694
Myelitis/myelitis transverse 6 53
Infections and musculoskeletal Erythema multiforme 11 97
Arthritis 70 178
Herpes zoster 263 1,148
Pregnancy, puerperium and perinatal conditions Abortion (spontaneous abortion /miscarriage) 47 290
  1. Includes all AESI reports, both serious and non-serious. Counts below 6 are reported as <6 for privacy reasons. Counts may change due to receipt of additional information and subsequent reclassification of cases.
  2. AESI background hospitalisation rates used to estimate the expected number of events in the general population, which help in vaccine safety surveillance. Counts indicate average of hospitalisation rates for the calendar years 2016-2019.
  3. The thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) AESI occurs only in non-replicating viral vaccines (eg, the AstraZeneca vaccine)
  4. Includes anaphylaxis reports meeting levels 1-3 of the Brighton Collaboration case definition.
  5. Haemorrhage can manifest in different ways depending on the mechanism and anatomic location. It is difficult to know if the haemorrhage was minor or significant through the hospitalisation background rates.

Summary of safety signals

Summary of Medsafe’s investigations into possible safety signals

Safety signal Outcome
Blood clots Continue to monitor. See also the Monitoring communication
Appendicitis Continue to monitor
Myocarditis/pericarditis Information has been added to Comirnaty data sheet. See also the Alert communication. Medsafe will continue to monitor this closely.
Herpes zoster Continue to monitor
Bell’s palsy/facial paralysis Continue to monitor
Menstrual disorder Continue to monitor. See also the monitoring communication.
Stroke Continue to monitor
Tinnitus Continue to monitor
AEFIs in the elderly Continue to monitor and updated data sheet
Pancreatitis Continue to monitor
Glomerular diseases Continue to monitor
Guillain-Barré Syndrome Continue to monitor
Thrombocytopenia Continue to monitor
AEFIs in children Continue to monitor
Erythema multiforme Continue to monitor
Pregnancy Continue to monitor. See also the monitoring communication.

Definitions

Adverse event following immunisation (AEFI)
An AEFI is an untoward medical event which follows immunisation and does not necessarily have a causal relationship with the administration of the vaccine. The adverse event may be an unfavourable or unintended sign, abnormal laboratory finding, symptom or disease.
Serious adverse event following immunisation
An AEFI is considered serious if it:
  • is a medically important event or reaction
  • requires hospitalisation or prolongs an existing hospitalisation
  • causes persistent or significant disability or incapacity
  • is life threatening
  • causes a congenital anomaly/birth defect
  • results in death.
It is possible for different people to have experienced the same event but for the report to be serious for one person and non-serious for another person.
Adverse events of special interest (AESI)
An AESI is a pre-specified medically significant event that has the potential to be causally associated with the vaccine product based on past experience, the technology used to make the vaccine or the infection the vaccine is used to protect against. AESIs need to be carefully monitored and any potential association to vaccination confirmed by further analysis and studies.
Safety signal
Information on a new or known adverse event that may be caused by the vaccine and requires further investigation. Safety signals can be detected from a wide range of sources such as CARM reports, clinical studies and scientific literature.
Valid report
There are only four requirements for a valid AEFI report:
  1. one patient identifier (eg, name, initials, gender, date of birth, age)
  2. suspect medicine(s)
  3. suspected reaction(s)
  4. reporter details.
These four requirements are the minimum requirements. However, including more information in the report helps Medsafe to investigate the reaction more quickly. Reporting is easiest online.

More information

See the data sheets and consumer medicine information for the expected reactions for approved COVID-19 vaccines.

COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Monitoring Process

View Ministry of Health COVID-19 vaccine data

Latest listing of all cases received

The latest listing of AEFIs received is included in the attached spreadsheet. Medsafe advises patients NOT to make any decisions about vaccination based on information contained here.

Download AEFI-line-listing.xlsm

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