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This month I gave my 29-year-old partner the Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine. It was an easy decision after Scott Morrison announced that under-40s who would not otherwise be eligible for any vaccine would be able to choose to have the AstraZeneca jab.
The political fallout and hyperbolic rebukes that followed the prime minister’s announcement were a hugely disappointing distraction that only further added to already negative imaging about vaccines. We have always known that vaccination is effective and a viable pathway towards normalcy. Politics should have no place in this debate.
We are in a pandemic and the risk of contracting Covid far outweighs the risks of the vaccine. Throughout this pandemic I have been an advocate of GPs doing what they do best, working at the forefront of preventative care and taking a proactive approach towards reducing Covid transmission and deaths. The vaccinations work, and whether it is AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna, the best vaccine is the one that is in your arm. Now more than ever the threat of contracting Covid in Sydney is real.
The messaging surrounding AstraZeneca has been extreme at times. We know that the vaccine can cause clots but the word “rare” is often ignored. Look up the rare side-effects of any common medication and you might think it would seem safer to just not take any medication at all. My partner is on the combined contraceptive pill, which more than doubles her background risk of clot. When we start a family, the risk of clotting due to pregnancy is about one to two in 1,000 women (or up to three in 1,000 women after a cesarean section).
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The number of clotting cases in Australia remains low but you would be forgiven for thinking that we are getting daily cases. Yet we have three road fatalities on average each day and do not hesitate to get into our cars.
AstraZeneca has been a hard sell to those eligible. “It’s a no-brainer – I would definitely do it,” is often my reply when patients ask me. “I would give my own parents the AstraZeneca vaccine,” I tell them – and now I can gladly say I have given my partner the vaccine too.
I discuss the risk of complacency. I discuss how we have clear guidelines on how to identify and treat these clots early. I use the case study of Indian Covid cases ballooning from 10,000 daily to almost 400,000 – in a country that is one of the biggest AstraZeneca vaccine producers and exporters in the world. Sometimes I convince them but at other times an elderly patient with heart and lung disease would prefer to wait until there are leftover Pfizer shots. All I can do is hope that they don’t contract Covid.
The outbreak and lockdown in Sydney has vindicated what I have said for months. I resist the urge to say “I told you so” but lament the preventable predicament we’re now in. It should not be this exhausting to try to advocate for the good of the community.
The risk of Covid itself sometimes seems forgotten due to Australia’s relative success in containing it. It’s almost as much a haematological disease as it is a respiratory disease. The risk of clotting from contracting it is 10 times higher than the risk of vaccination, and this risk increases exponentially if one has to be admitted to hospital or intensive care.
There are specific medical reasons that make the AstraZeneca vaccine unsuitable for some but these are rare and are clearly laid out by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. Usually having chronic health issues means that you need any vaccine sooner rather than later, and they are not necessarily a reason to avoid AstraZeneca.
Please discuss what is best for you with your regular GP and stay safe.
• Dr Richard Nguyen is a GP in southern Sydney and works part-time in a Covid-19 respiratory clinic in south-west Sydney
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