The link between vaccines and blood clots
As the UK takes its first tentative steps back to normality and pub gardens open their doors for the first time since December, glasses are being raised around the country to the NHS vaccine rollout. Despite concerns being raised about the vaccine resulting in an increased chance of blood clots, the government is keen to claim the programme as a rare show of competence.
Without being a scientist, it is difficult to explain the technicalities in any detail, so a better informed account can be found here. However, both the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the American Johnson & Johnson jab have seen a small number of people – predominantly younger women – become seriously ill with rare blood clots, resulting in several deaths.
The risks facing women on a regular basis
Despite various governments adopting measures to pause the rollout, the public has been advised not to overreact. Around one in every 250,000 people who have been injected with the AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK has developed a clot, while just six of the 6.8 million Americans who have been inoculated fell seriously ill.
From these statistics, it seems that the risk of blood clots is minimal, which raises the issue of why so much coverage has been given to a problem which affects so few people. Unfortunately, the level of hysteria can probably be explained by who it affects rather than the degree of risk.
Although younger women are most affected, the risk of blood clots is not exclusive to the group. Sadly, it seems that the small possibility of men falling victim to clots causes more concern than the far greater risk that women face on a regular basis.
The predominant example is the contraceptive pill, from which around one in every 10,000 women suffer blood clots each year. Despite the far higher prevalence of clots which occur as a result of taking the pill, much less attention has been given to the issue – in fact, I only became aware of it once comparisons started to be made with the Covid vaccine.
Other blood clot risks
It is important to note that the comparison is not perfect. The type of clot linked to the vaccine affects the brain and is more dangerous than those associated with the pill, while contracting Covid-19 increases the risk of blood clots dramatically, with up to 41% of patients experiencing clots. Pregnancy also increases the risk of clots, but to a lesser degree than the virus.
Therefore, it would be overly simplistic to conclude either that concerns over the vaccine are unfounded or that the rollout must be halted. It is not the intention of this article to dissuade people from getting vaccinated, or indeed to stop using contraception. It is simply important to draw attention to the inequalities that exist in everyday life.
Information on issues such as the side-effects of the contraceptive pill must be readily available so that women are aware of the risks and can make informed decisions. Meanwhile, as much energy must be put into issues which affect women everyday as is afforded to those which have a minimal impact on men during a (hopefully) once in a lifetime pandemic.
This episode serves as yet another reminder that, although those in positions of power deny it, some lives are treated as much more precious than others.