The vaccines are safe and effective: Coronavirus update from Dr Husbands
Dr Sandra Husbands has been a doctor for 33 years and is currently the Director of Public Health for Hackney and the City of London. Here she gives an update on the coronavirus vaccine.
Tragically, since the start of the pandemic, over 127,000 people across the UK, including 490 in Hackney, have died from COVID-19. With your chance of dying from COVID-19 increasing due to factors such as age, ethnicity and medical conditions, this toll would have been much higher if we hadn’t all worked together to practise hands, face, space, and ensure we complied with lockdown rules.
But lockdown cannot continue forever. This was a stop-gap measure to allow scientists the time to develop treatments for the disease and, best of all, a prevention in the form of a vaccine. Thankfully we now have three highly effective vaccines that are being rolled out across the country, which are estimated to have already saved over 6,000 lives.
All three vaccines have been through rigorous safety assessments, in order to be licensed by the UK and overseas medicines safety regulators, which continue to monitor their effects as the vaccines are being rolled out. Over 31 million people in the UK have safely received their first dose of vaccine, including 20 million who have received an AstraZeneca jab. However, no medicines are without risks or side effects and there are some concerns that there may be a very low risk of a rare type of blood clotting disorder, with a low platelet count, due to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
There’s no firm evidence yet that the vaccine actually causes this to happen. But the regulators are taking this very seriously and investigating the possible link. Although it’s very rare - only 79 cases in 20 million people vaccinated in the UK (or 4 per 1,000,000), this blood clotting disorder seems to affect young women under 30 years old, more than other people. Much more common is the risk of a blood clot for those who actually catch COVID-19, caused by the disease itself. Blood clots occur in 7-11% (7 to 11 in every 100) of people who have COVID-19 – a much higher risk than with the vaccine.
The British and EU medicines agencies have weighed up the evidence and continue to advise that the benefits of vaccination are much greater than the risks of COVID-19. In the UK, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), advises that “the benefits of prompt vaccination with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine far outweigh the risk of adverse events for individuals 30 years of age and over and those who have underlying health conditions, which put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease”. For people under 30 who have no underlying health conditions that significantly increase their risk of COVID-19, JCVI is currently advising that they are offered an alternative vaccine, if available. However, if they wish to choose to have the AstraZeneca one, in order to be vaccinated earlier, this may be possible, after discussion with their GP. If you are under 30 and not a front line health or care worker and you're not at higher risk of COVID-19, you have time to think about this, as you won't be invited for vaccination until about July.
With the AstraZeneca vaccine, as with any medicine, there are very rare risks. So, if you get strange side effects in the days after your jab, such as a persistent severe headache, please call your GP or 111. In case of an emergency, if you have severe symptoms, such as breathlessness, call 999.
The WHO, European Medicines Agency and British medicine agencies have declared that the vaccines are still safe and effective, to use in the fight against COVID-19 which is a highly infectious disease, which can be deadly or lead to long term symptoms, particularly in young people.
I have had my vaccination and I want to assure all residents that the vaccines are safe. When you are offered the vaccine please do take it, to protect yourself from coronavirus.
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