Safety of the vaccine

11 April 2021
With vaccination being the end-game of the Covid-19 pandemic there have been concerns about the Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine being implicated in complications that seems to be a combination of rare blood clotting disorders and low platelet counts, and is suspected of being an autoimmune response. This has been made worse with news that this may be an issues with the Johnson&Johnson (aka. Janssen) vaccine as well. I think this is likely going to be an issue with all the Covid-19 vaccines that are available.

Numbers are unclear but in terms of statistical risks of getting killed by the vaccine versus the negative effects of a Covid-19 infection, the odds are vastly in favour of taking the vaccine. The UK has administered something like 35 million doses and of those there have been 79 reported cases and of these there have been 19 deaths. I think those numbers are comparable to vCJD deaths from eating beef. A big issue here is not really knowing what other risk factors are, and to me it seems the decision to limit it to older people is based purely on Covid-19 being more dangerous with increased age rather than the vaccine being safer. What is clear is that this is not a vaccine-specific fault that can be put down to an old-fashioned screwup.

The vaccine technologies

Both the AstraZenica and Janssen vaccines are “old” and hence well-understood technology that will have been used many times in the past, although I am not sure if a single vaccine has had the same level of use as the Covid-19 ones. It is plausible that this might have been a latent issue that only came up because of the extreme rarity of the clotting disorders coupled with near-universal use of a single shot, but I am inclined to believe that this is not likely and therefore the problem lies in the one part that is actually new — the immune response that the vaccine is trying to solicit. The problem here is that while the BioNTech/Pfizer and other technologies are very different, they still have the same fundamental goal of soliciting an immune response to part of the Covid-19 virus, and this may be the root cause of what is suspected to be an autoimmune response — the body attacking itself basically. For this reason I suspect these complications are going to be an issue with most if not all Covid-19 vaccines, which at the very least calls into question the current age-based suspensions of the AstraZenica jab.

Bring in the politics

The AstraZenica vaccine has received a lot of flak for various missteps and the manufacturer has become something of the whipping boy for certain washed-up EU politicians, but a lot of this has to be expected for something that has only become available by cutting every corner in the book. It only became so central to the EU vaccination programs because it was by far the cheapest of all the ones in the first wave of emergency approvals, and the uncertain nature of the “cooking” process simply does not fit in with the public-relations driven mindset of those in positions of political responsibility. A lot of those who called for export bans now find that they are not even using the stock they actually have.

My own action

I make no secret of my plans to travel to the UK purely in order to get the jab. The vaccination program is the one thing that the country has basically got everything right, and as a result I think the costs involved are worth it in order to get vaccinated 3–6 months earlier than if I stayed put. It does not even remotely compare to all sorts of risks I have taken over the years, and if it was not for these suspected side-effects I would probably be in favour of making vaccination mandatory.