The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
We need to look at jab facts
A YEAR or so now into this pandemic, the biggest casualty in Australia has been perspective. Even though for most Australians, most of the time, life has been close to normal – unlike the lengthy lockdowns and widespread sickness and death experienced in much of the world – COVID has totally dominated our consciousness and often enough generated something close to hysteria. Of course, COVID always was and remains a serious problem.
Except for our relatively early international border closures, the virus could have become prevalent here too; and but for the Victorian lockdown last year (over the top though some features of it were), it could have breached our quarantine walls with comparable consequences to those overseas. Still, for a country that’s been praying for a vaccine so that borders can reopen and travel can resume, we’re almost manically suspicious when our prayers look like being answered.
Unlike Britain, that’s had over 120,000 COVID deaths, and the US, that’s had over 560,000, because we’ve been virtually virus-free, we didn’t need to rush vaccine approval. Our expert regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved both the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine under standard (rather than emergency) protocols so we know both are safe and effective.
But all vaccines have some side-effects and sometimes they can be serious. As always, it’s a question of balancing the risks in vaccination against the risks of disease. So far, based on some 200 million people who’ve received the AstraZeneca vaccine worldwide, between one in 100,000 and one in 250,000 have developed rare and serious blood clots on the brain that seem to be associated with the jab. Given an infection fatality rate of about six in a thousand for people between 50 and 65 catching COVID, having the AstraZeneca jab is well worth the risk; even more so for the very elderly whose COVID death rate is as much as nine per 100. That’s why Scott Morrison announced late on Thursday that the AZ jab would only be recommended for people over 50 following updated advice from the TGA; it’s about an abundance of caution. With more and more people getting vaccinated overseas, our experts have benefited from greater data on which to base this analysis so for us, the delays in shipments of AZ out of Europe has worked in our favour. But again, perspective is needed. As one commentator put it on Friday, “if you look at the data and see that the chances of getting a blood clot with this vaccine is about four in one million, compared to four in 10,000 for the contraceptive pill, that perspective needs to be highlighted”.
These are the sort of practical issues with rollouts and manufacture that a COVID royal commission should look at, so that next time we have a pandemic, and we WILL, we start further in front.