Ministers: Information about rescuer's death was made public to stop rumors

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A bottle of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during the first vaccinations in Tallinn, Estonia on December 27. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Information about the death of a rescue worker who died this week 10 days after receiving a coronavirus vaccination was made public to avoid rumors spreading, ministers said on Thursday.

At the government's weekly press conference, a reporter from ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" asked why information about the death of the 31-year-old man had been released on Wednesday when there was no confirmation of the vaccine, or its side effects, playing a contributing factor and could lead to mistrust in vaccinations.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said the agency which released the data, the state's Agency of Medicines, is investigating the cause of death.

"As far as I know, this information was released as rumors began to spread about it. As long as there is nothing definite, it cannot be said that it is related to it [the vaccine]," she said.

Minister for Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said the agency had released all the information it currently could.

"If such information starts to spread somewhere, on social media or in any other way, then it is said that the state is hiding something, which is much worse," Kiik said.

The minister noted that due to the confidential nature of health data it is difficult to provide additional information to the public quickly.

"Understandably, it is simply not possible to disclose health data in public in this way. This is inevitably one of the principles on which health data is based. First of all, it must be checked, its accuracy must be verified. The data can be published with the level of detail possible" Kiik said.  

"But, of course, all the facts have to be clarified by the agency in cooperation with the health authorities. That is what is being done. Of course, it must be done quickly, and when the knowledge is ascertained, the details will be made public."

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) said communication can always be improved but crisis communication is not easy.

"It is not right to say that it is the vaccine's fault. These facts must be verified," Aab ​​added.

On Wednesday, Estonia's Agency of Medicines said a 31-year-old male rescue worker vaccinated against coronavirus in February had died. The agency had been informed by East Tallinn Central Hospital.

The man received the AstraZeneca vaccine on February 17. After the vaccination, he developed a headache and fever, which are common side effects, but it is not known how long the side-effects lasted.

Ten days after receiving the vaccine, the man was hospitalized and died on Wednesday.

The State Agency of Medicines said on Wednesday it is not yet known if the vaccine or its side effects played a role and it will take time to determine. An investigation into the cause of death is currently underway.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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