Irrational fears over blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine have led to doctors warning about a growing vaccine hesitancy. A recent poll showed eight in 10 people are worried about side effects.
Turns out it’s not the Mullumbimby-crystal-rubbing-5G-conspiracy-theory mob that put our hoped-for herd immunity at risk — it’s those people cancelling their jab appointments because of a disproportionate and ill-defined fear of an extremely rare event.
You can write off the conspiracy theorists as deluded, misinformed, or cynical bullshitters of the highest order. But there is a more insidious form of bullshit around the blood clots that needs to be tackled. It’s not enough to label the potentially fatal reaction “rare”. Every time it is mentioned it should be accompanied by the fact that it happens to fewer than 10 people per million doses.
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The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation estimates it occurs in about six cases per million vaccinated.
(It would be interesting to know if the authorities’ risk/benefit analysis around the decision to change the vaccination took into account the potential for increased vaccine hesitancy.)
It’s done now.
What’s still to be done is to cut the bullshit-by-omission discussion around the clots. To a large extent that’s up to the media. Of course it’s news whenever there’s a new case, but media companies have a choice about how it’s reported.
Too often the headline blares the latest case but actual statistics about the clots are entirely omitted, or put “below the fold” — in the tail end of the story.
Over the weekend there was a story about a “possible” vaccine side effect based purely on a family’s fears about a condition affecting their grandmother.
Anyone just scanning stories about blood clots is getting a vastly disproportionate idea about the safety of the vaccine — and their fear can easily spread to all vaccines.
It’s bullshit by omission, and it has a potentially deadly side effect.