Every week I host a two hour radio show on health issues on National Commercial Radio. The most common chat calls I get right now and the most common email inquiries are about the risk of AstraZeneca vaccine clotting. The level of paranoia is alarming.
Some callers have had blood clots and believe this puts them at additional risk of experiencing the extremely rare cases of coagulation associated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Others take blood thinners and therefore think AstraZeneca is not for them. Many people over 50 believe government advice in April limiting Moderna and Pfizer to young Australians means they are missing out on the “gold standard.” All of this contributes to a reluctance to get vaccinated with AstraZeneca. And everything is wrong.
While it’s good news that the government has secured more supplies of Pfizer, it is in everyone’s best interests to get the country vaccinated as quickly as possible. If you can get the AstraZeneca vaccine now, you should.
First of all, let me say that it is a medical fact and not just an opinion that vaccination was the greatest advance of the 20th century. Vaccinations have prevented millions of children from dying from very nasty infectious diseases. Additionally, with conditions such as polio, vaccines ended lifelong disability. For reasons that are not based on any science, but based on occasional anecdotes, there has been a small but very noisy anti-vaxxing community that continues to spread crude disinformation based on no science.
There have been a relatively low number of coagulation cases associated with AstraZeneca vaccine worldwide. This involves a very rare and specific antibody response where antibodies are produced against a particular platelet receptor known as platelet factor 4. If you are one of the very rare and unfortunate people to develop this condition, your platelet count drops by markedly (a condition known as thrombocytopenia) and the platelets become extremely sticky, causing clotting. To date, the estimated occurrence of this is between one in 100,000 and 250,000.
Tragically, the amount of media time this consumes is ridiculous. There had been occasional death before this disease was well recognized, but now people are detected early, treated and generally recovering well.
To put this in perspective, the real evil comes from the development of COVID-19. To repeat the often-cited statistics, 20% of people who develop COVID-19 will develop the most severe form of the disease which can lead to serious lung problems, often requiring a ventilator, and 30% of those people with severe COVID will develop severe coagulation abnormalities. Between one and three of those 20 may die, especially if they are older or have severe co-morbidities.
Recent reports have also suggested that a third of patients who have developed the more severe version of COVID-19 will develop a long-term COVID, characterized by fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive problems. A study from the University of Oxford published in Lancet Psychiatry showed that one-third of COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed with significant neurological or mental health conditions within six months of their recovery from the acute illness.
Another study recently published in the journal Nature from the Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis showed that even with mild cases of COVID, within six months of recovery, the risk of death from other conditions increased by 60%. Another study published in the Global Journal of Men’s Health examined the potential of COVID-19 to be associated with erectile dysfunction and infertility.