The news that a 34-year-old woman died from a blood clot related to AstraZeneca, one of the vaccines available in Australia against COVID-19, hit media outlets yesterday. Comment sections on social media were littered with people filled with fear, tagging friends and saying “this is why I’m waiting for Pfizer”.
It’s understandable. Every death associated with AstraZeneca has been reported in the media. It’s a new vaccine for a new virus, and it’s a virus we still are learning about. Some people contract it, get barely any symptoms, then move on with their lives. Some are left with “long Covid”, with conditions like chronic fatigue and breathing issues months later. Some die.
In Australia it’s been easy to feel shielded from COVID in a way – after our first nation-wide lockdown, unless you reside in Melbourne, life went back to somewhat-normal pretty quickly. When there were cases, the numbers were low and resolved within a few weeks.
But then the Delta variant hit us. It’s more contagious and more deadly. It’s affecting young people more so than the first wave of COVID did in Australia. We’ve seen a man in his 20s and a woman in her 30s die from the virus in Sydney. It’s a scary outbreak and our chances of contracting it are higher than ever.
The only way out, according to health experts, is to get people vaccinated. With a limited supply of Pfizer, the state turned to AstraZeneca, a vaccine that was originally advised for the over 60s, and was not advised for under 40s.
This advice was due to the rare risk of blood clots, particularly in young people. But when the Delta variant ramped up, the advice changed – now, anyone can get AstraZeneca, and for many, it’s the only vaccine you’ll get access to for months.
Still, it’s natural to be afraid of a vaccine that we were, only a few months ago, advised against getting. News outlets aren’t helping – while there are many providing factual, perspective-based information for Australians, there will always be those that fear-monger for the sake of clicks.
The news is also, sometimes, just going to be bad news. The death of the 34-year-old woman was news, and news outlets reporting on it are doing their job. It’s also understandably going to scare a lot of people considering AstraZeneca. If that’s you, my advice is – do your research. Make a decision from a place of perspective.
For example, just a few facts about AstraZeneca.
1. You’re more likely to die from a blood clot relating to the pill, childbirth, even long-distance flying.
The risk of developing thrombosis and thrombocytopenia syndrome, the issues that can cause blood clots, is 3.1 in every 100,000 Australians under 50 getting an AstraZeneca shot.
The combined contraceptive pill, however, sees around 2 of every 10,000 women per year develop blood clots, according to the TGA. For pregnancy, it’s 2 per 1000 pregnancies, according to Thrombosis Australia.
It’s true that your risk of dying from a blood clot related to the pill or pregnancy is lower than your risk of dying from a blood clot related to AstraZeneca. According to the ABC, it’s a 3% with the pill vs. an estimated 25% chance from AstraZeneca.
But think about how we take these risks without even worrying too much about potentially developing a blood clot?
We do plenty of risky things every day. Drinking too much. Driving. Going for a run. We know there is risk involved in everything we do, but most of us do these things without worrying because everything in life carries risk.
2. Your risk of dying from COVID is much, much higher right now
The main reason AstraZeneca has now been approved for more Australians is due to risk assessment. Yes, you have a risk – if small – of developing a blood clot that then could turn deadly.
But your risk of contracting COVID at this point with the deadly Delta variant in play is far higher.
The risk of death from COVID is 1 in 35 right now, according to and open letter from The Australian, signed by a plethora of Australian health experts. That is SCARY. That is the real scary figure here – if you get COVID, your chance of dying is incredibly high.
Not to mention the fact that we don’t know a lot about “long COVID”, the continuing health issues people often face. As said in the open letter in the Australian, “10-30% of people who contract COVID will suffer long term health consequences, the seriousness of which are yet to be fully understood.”
3. You can’t avoid COVID forever
While it might feel like we’ve been lucky in Australia, and you may live somewhere with little to no COVID, it’s highly likely the disease will eventually reach you.
Lockdowns are not a long-term solution to the virus, and the Delta strain has proven that. As outlined in The Australian, while vaccinated people can and do catch COVID, it “causes generally mild disease in vaccinated people, as evidenced in North America, Europe, Britain and vaccinated populations in Asia. Unvaccinated people are virtually the only ones who are dying of this strain.”
It is a huge risk to stay unvaccinated at this point in time. If you do catch COVID, your chances of it being severe, leading to death, and leading to long COVID are all significantly higher.
4. It’s not about blindly deciding to get AZ
None of the health advice has been to just walk into a medical centre and get AstraZeneca. It is vital that you speak to a GP. It is important to look at your family history and physical state to ensure you’re eligible for AstraZeneca. Some people will be advised to wait for Pfizer – but that is not the national health advice for all Australians, currently.
What’s important to remember is that getting vaccinated isn’t just about supporting the nation when it comes to wider health. It’s also about protecting yourself.