With the introduction of any new treatment there is a well recognised repeated cycle of the medication/vaccination being heralded as a breakthrough followed by concern at side effects and a period of negativity before reaching acceptance that the treatment is of value despite side effects and a steady state reached of the risks and benefits. No medical intervention whether with medicines or surgery is without risk. The risk of doing nothing is greater than the risk of side effects, so it is with Covid vaccination. The recognised side effects thus far have been mild and transient.
There have been numerous media reports that there is a problem with the Astra Zeneca vaccine. The data supplied by AstraZeneca shows there have been 37 reports of blood clots among the 17m people across Europe who have been given the vaccine. The key question that has to be asked is whether this is cause or coincidence? Would these clots have happened anyway?
Adverse events like this are monitored carefully, so regulators can assess if they are happening more than they should. The 37 reports of clots are below the level you would expect. What is more, there is no strong biological explanation why the vaccine would cause a blood clot.
It is why the World Health Organization and UK drugs regulators have all said there is no evidence of a link. The European Medicines Agency, which is looking into the reports, has suggested the vaccine should continue to be used in the meantime given the risk Covid presents to health.
When 17m people are involved in a process then life events happen by chance in the days and weeks after they have been exposed to an intervention. Covid causes an increase in clotting and has led to many fatalities as a result of clots on the lungs. The vaccines cause an immunity but not the disease. It is the disease that causes clots.
No action, particularly medical, is without its risks. In taking an action then we have to weigh up risks and benefits. The benefits in preventing Covid by taking the vaccine are clear and becoming clearer. The risks after 17m doses seem to be mild and short lived. The facts regarding Covid and the vaccinations may not be fully determined for years to come. We do know from previous experience with other vaccinations and other illnesses that vaccines work and are safe.
Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, an expert in understanding risk at Cambridge University, says: “Sometimes it can be harmful to wait for certainty. Not vaccinating people will costs lives.”
Locally, in Folkestone and Hythe, the number of cases is now down to 23 per 100k per week. This is a massive improvement from the beginning of the year when the rate was 980 at the peak. Deaths are down from 42 per week to 5, hospital admissions show similar falls. A great deal of the fall in rates is due to the maintenance of social distancing but as society opens up we will rely more and more on the effectiveness of the vaccine.
The success of the vaccine programme recently is shown by over 47,000 people locally have been vaccinated to the 7th March. A testament to the organization of local Primary Care supported by Volunteers and but also by the local population in coming forward to take part in the programme. The adult population of Folkestone and Hythe is 91,000 showing that over 50% had already been vaccinated by at least one dose by that date.
Currently lockdown measures we are getting on top of the virus and by vaccination we will keep on top, and life will return to normal. The Astra Zeneca vaccination is a key weapon in the battle against the virus.