The UK including Northern Ireland is right to press on with AstraZeneca jabs given that evidence of risk is very small

News Letter editorial of Tuesday March 16 2021:

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 9:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 9:30 am
News Letter editorial

Only weeks ago the European Union was furious that it was not getting enough doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

The European Commission even threatened to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, to halt the possible movement of the vaccine between the EU and UK via Northern Ireland.

Now most of the EU has paused the rollout of AstraZeneca jabs due to fears that the vaccine can cause blood clots. Such a possibility is of course a matter of concern. The speed with which it and other Covid treatments were developed runs a risk of unforeseen side effects.

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But yesterday experts took to the airwaves to say that in fact blood clotting can easily be caused by many triggers. AstraZeneca said that out of 40 million jabs administered in the UK and EU there had been only 40 blood clots. This was no more than would be expected in such a large group of people.

Some of the nations that have taken this precautionary step, like Germany, have an outstanding scientific community, as does the UK. It is therefore surprising that they make so much of a risk that, the evidence so far suggests, is minuscule.

It is not as if pausing the rollout of vaccines is a consequence-free option, in which your Covid situation will remain the same until the programme resumes.

It leaves scores of millions of people exposed to risk for days longer than they would otherwise be, and even if only a small fraction of them get infected and less than 1% of the infected die, that quickly amounts to a figure greater than the 40 reported blood clots.

And not only that, but a widely publicised pause in the rollout causes public alarm, when there are already concerns about people being needlessly wary of taking vaccines.

The World Health Organization yesterday reiterated its view that countries should not halt their AstraZeneca rollout.

It is right that the UK including NI has not stopped its jab programme. It is noteworthy that when Dublin took the opposite decision, it did not inform Belfast of the fact.

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Alistair Bushe

Editor