At the start of this week, a handful of European countries that include Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Norway and Ireland, decided to put all Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccinations on hold while Estonia and Austria had suspended vaccinations from particular batches of the vaccine. In return, this caused an understandable fuss from both sides of the giver-receiver table. What’s actually going on with the AstraZeneca vaccine and should you be worried about it?
A small number of people who received the vaccine have reported blood-clotting conditions, according to The Guardian, “These include pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis as well as rarer conditions such as thrombocytopenia, where people do not make enough platelets, and a disorder called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), which is a type of blood clot in the brain.”
Governments in the countries mentioned above have stated that they had acted out of “an abundance of caution” by pausing the vaccinations until further investigation had been made.
Emer Cooke, the head of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said on 17 March that there was no indication that the cases have been caused by the vaccination jab itself, and that the EMA remains “firmly convinced” the benefits of the jab outweigh the risks. She did add however that the cases “are a serious concern and need serious and detailed scientific evaluation.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) further backed the vaccine, and AstraZeneca has announced that 17 million people in the EU and UK have received the vaccine, with the number of cases of blood clots reported being “lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population.”
Belgium’s health agency said on Monday 15 March that it would continue to use AstraZeneca, stating in The Brussels Times that stopping the vaccination process would be “irresponsible.” According to The Guardian, France’s prime minister, Jean Castex, has said he would get vaccinated “very quickly” with the shot when the EMA rules it safe, “to show my fellow citizens that the vaccine is the way out of this crisis and it can be taken in all security.” He added, “I think the opinion will be positive and we can restore a full confidence in this vaccine.”
The main issue is blood clotting, and which groups are more at risk than others is being looked into—as this might obviously provide a ‘selected’ dose per group, and therefore a way out of the trouble. The German federal ministry of health has however said that young people, especially young women, seem to be overrepresented in cases of cerebral sinus venous thrombosis (CVST) among those who have been vaccinated. This is a moment to mention that the contraceptive pill, which women have been taking for decades to avoid pregnancy, is high if not higher risk in suffering a blood clot.
In talking to The Guardian, Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia stated that “[CVST] is also more common in people under 50 years old than in people over 50 years old, and a little more common in women than in men.” Another important point Hunter made was that if there was a true rise in “unusual conditions among the vaccine recipients, that does not mean they are caused by vaccination, the rate could be inflated because people are looking harder for cases.”
When it comes to the UK, anonymous sources have told Sky News that one reason for the number of doses delivered varying over time is batches requiring further testing to ensure the highest safety standards are met in every case. Hunter commented on this as well, saying that while cases should be investigated, the UK is right not to put use of the jab on hold. “I think the UK has taken the approach that will ultimately lead to fewer deaths, I would not have argued for pausing vaccination given the tenuous nature of the evidence currently available.”
On Thursday, the EU’s drugs regulator deemed AstraZeneca’s vaccine “safe and effective.” The European agency said the shot’s benefits outweigh any risks but couldn’t rule out a definitive link to the side effects.
Vaccination sites in England have been ordered not to stop the jabs being given entirely, but only for the under 50 year olds during the whole of April. Unfortunately, this hesitancy relays as a massive and concrete delay within the general population’s safety, because it not only increases the risk of further mutations and the spread of misinformation, but for infections to rise, yet again.
Rumours are of course swirling that the UK may not get out of lockdown when promised, but AstraZeneca said in a statement that “Our UK domestic supply chain is not experiencing any disruption and there is no impact on our delivery schedule.”
By late spring, the first doses of Moderna, which is the third vaccine to have been approved in the UK, shall start arriving from labs. According to Reuters, “Moderna expects to begin deliveries to the UK in April, within the spring delivery window previously communicated. Moderna is on track to meet quarterly contractual commitments,” a spokesman for the US biotech company said.
To sum up, the vaccination of under 50 year olds within the UK is likely to be delayed. This is a difficult time, but we have done a year of waiting, and yes, none of us want to wait any longer—but all we can really do is trust science to get us all out of this. Hang tight.
And look on the bright side, new and improved COVID-19 vaccines, including ones that don’t require needles and can be stored at room temperature, may be ready as soon as this year, the WHO’s top scientist said. In development are inoculations that could be given as a nasal spray or taken orally. Globally, 10 shots have been proven effective since the pandemic began.
The end of mass hibernation is in sight. However you feel about this is valid in itself, although it will not stop it from happening. We will soon roam free like we all want to, we will holiday to our hearts content, hug strangers, and hold hands with our loved ones. This is what we all want, am I not right? Why then, are we arguing about what will give us that freedom, the vaccine?
Scientists from all corners of the world have been pulling actual magic out of seemingly nowhere, and regardless of tragic outcomes, humanity has seriously shown up to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Having been cooped indoors, scared at times, bored at others, and frustrated overall, we are now so close to this battle ending with, arguably, one of the greatest scientific achievements of our time; a vaccine. There is however, another battle in parallel to this—a social media-fueled storm of mis-and-dis-information.
This is nothing new, but the recent news of mass COVID-19 vaccination has triggered an influx of conspiracy conundrum. Anti-vaxxers are in overdrive. As stated by the British Medical Association (BMA), the WHO and UN warned of the consequences of this ‘infodemic’ being left unchecked. The WHO has also listed vaccination hesitancy as one of the top 10 health threats.
For example, studies show that measles vaccinations saved 23 million lives, but misinformation was linked to the disease’s resurgence. Spreading falsehoods can also be lucrative, as some people may benefit from spreading conspiracy theories (or selling COVID-19 ‘cures’).
Professor of demography and sociology Melinda Mills wrote in The BMJ that “Simple, emotive, and compelling disinformation can sow doubt and distrust by exploiting perceived U turns in scientific knowledge or by presenting government or public health decisions as establishment failures. ‘Merchandising doubt’ is effective, from denying a link between cigarettes and cancer to questioning climate change or national election results. Doubt destabilises, polarises, and erodes trust.” So should it be criminalised, like the repercussive threats that conspiracy theories, intentionally or unintentionally, pose?
Deliberate intent to spread malicious vaccine disinformation could result in preventable deaths, which should technically be considered criminal. But it’s not that straightforward. According to Mills, “Laws against spreading fake news and health disinformation have been passed in France, Germany, Malaysia, Russia, and Singapore. As of 2018, Germany required social media platforms to remove hate speech or fake information within 24 hours, threatening maximum fines of €50m.”
Mills continued that “Social media platforms give the public a voice to exchange information, and the most common sources of vaccine information are often non-experts. But social media companies have argued that they are not publishers and have minimal responsibility to vet posts, although they have agreed to conduct some editorial decisions and fact checking.”
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Contrary to this however, senior researcher of infectious disease control and vaccinations Jonas Sivelä wrote that “criminalising anti-vaccine misinformation could make it grow even stronger,” and that “We should be cautious when we talk about misinformation and disinformation, as there is a difference: misinformation is defined as ‘incorrect or misleading information’; disinformation as false information deliberately spread with the purpose of influencing public opinion. The crucial difference is the intention to deceive.”
How mis-and-disinformation should be stopped is an enormously murky area, however one that stands as true: “Misinformation costs lives,” a WHO and UN joint statement said. “Without the appropriate trust and correct information, diagnostic tests go unused, immunisation campaigns will not meet their targets, and the virus will continue to thrive.”
In a survey conducted by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI in July 2020, 22 per cent of 16 to 34 year olds said that they were unlikely to have a COVID-19 vaccine or definitely wouldn’t, compared with 11 per cent of 55 to 75 year olds. Doctor David Strain, who plays a lead role in the BMA’s work on COVID, said that “With COVID, we’re seeing patients in their 40s and 50s dying and young patients, people in their 20s and 30s getting long COVID. We want to get COVID wiped out or near zero, so we have to make this work.”
The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) estimated that the largest English language anti-vaxxer accounts on social media have a global following of 59.2 million people, which is enough to compromise a future vaccine’s ability to contain the disease. Social psychologist Sander van der Linden told the BMA that “Fake news can travel faster and lodge itself deeper than the truth.” Which in my opinion, is true—since the beginning of time we have dissected, analysed and unearthed the truth, often without realising that there is always room for improvement.
We, by nature, have an innate distrust for the darkness (metaphorically and physically speaking). It is a mode for survival, which has been heavily relied upon in the past, and which is now in contradiction with the state of pace that darkness is being ‘cast into light’ by science and discovery, through invention and problem solving—in other words, understanding.
This contradiction may be down to the possibility that ‘elitist’ innovation is fundamentally moving too fast for the majority of its users to keep pace. Now, we are forced to trust in something that is far beyond our own individual development or understanding. But modes of survival have been changing, ever so slightly, for many many years. I did not discover electricity, thankfully, yet now I can use it and manipulate it by understanding it. Medically, I can buy an over the counter headache cure, and blissfully go about my day without having had the stress of concocting the cure itself. More so though, I can trust it. A vaccine for COVID-19 is a year young, yes, but the science and study behind vaccination has been ticking over since the first vaccine was invented in 1798.
What I want to leave in question here, is that whatever your views on how or why this COVID-19 virus came about—it has, it’s done—but would governments, scientists or ‘people in power’ that are apparently to blame on social media, really want to damage the future of humanity, the economy and society in its entirety with a faulty mass vaccination, including themselves? Probably not.
So, with this in mind, I’m just wondering here… what do anti-vaxxers do for a headache? If not swallow a pill of contradiction?