The media are behaving like clots over vaccine risk

by Matthew Eason

Why are the media suddenly concerned with a rare blood clot risk? Of course, we want to be aware of the risks and dangers that any medication, especially one as important as a Covid-19 vaccine, but the huge over dramatisation of the risks could potentially damage the take-up of the vaccine and thus risk public health far more. Not to mention the possibility of delaying the end of lockdown.

Let’s be clear, according to statistics in the public arena – the risk of developing a blood clot is around 0.000095 per cent. An incredibly unlikely occurrence by anyone’s standards. To put this into perspective – this is roughly the same chance the BMJ expects that someone in the UK faces of being struck by lightning. Other calculations have suggested that you have the same chance as a plane hitting your home. It is clear that we should take the risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine with an appropriately large bucket of salt. The benefits of vaccination far outstrip the risks of blood clots from the vaccine.

If we want to talk about true risks to public health there are far more pertinent headlines and stories that we could be talking about. For example, it is estimated that taking the contraceptive pill has a one in 2,000 chance of getting a blood clot — or 0.05 per cent. This is significantly higher than the vaccine’s risk and yet we are unlikely to ever have the same media focus or frontpage coverage of this statistic. If the Pill is deemed safe enough for daily consumption, then we cannot be making this level of fuss over the vaccine. However, as the media deems it “newsworthy” to make a song and dance of this incredibly minor risk, I look forward to seeing multiple headlines about the less minor risks of the Pill.

There are various other major risks that could be focused on and deserve wider attention. In the most recent statistics (2019), 4,400 people died in the England and Wales from drug poisoning – the highest number since records began. Perhaps we could continue the national conversation on how to combat this worrying trend instead of wasting time on a dangerous story about clotting risk.

Suicides are also worryingly on the rise, with the latest statistics for England and Wales showing that suicide causes 11 deaths per 100,000 people with 5,691 people dying from this in 2019. The suicide rate increases to 16.6 per 100,000 people in Scotland. This trend is likely to have only worsened during the Covid pandemic with the Samaritans highlighting last year that the pandemic exacerbates known risk factors for those who are already vulnerable.

While discussing the clotting risk may make for easy headlines it does not remove the fact that even if you still emblazon your support for the vaccine on the front page – the fact that it is a front-page story will embolden those who fight against the vaccine. The decision to run social media clickbait of breaking news that “Vaccine carries blood Clot risk” will lead to people being less likely to take the vaccine and reduced confidence in what is the most effective way to end lockdown and the threat of the Covid-19 virus.

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