If you are infected by the coronavirus, you have about a 1.8% chance of dying, and a 20% chance of getting a severe infection that will impact on your quality of life for years to come.
Now let’s imagine your doctor comes along and says “Would you like this Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it cuts your risk of infection by more than two-thirds and zeroes out your chance of dying of the disease?” It is free, you just need a quick single jab, and you’re done.
That surely sounds attractive, right. But the doctor continues, and says “Oh, by the way, if you’re a woman between the ages of 18 – 48, there’s about one chance in a million of getting a serious blood clot.”
Happily, let’s say you’re, like me, a 65 year old man. Do you accept the vaccine or not? Of course you do, without giving it a second thought.
Now let’s say you have a younger wife or daughter who is with you, and she is between the ages of 18 – 48. Should she get the vaccine? Perhaps she asks two questions before deciding. Her first question is “how many people get blood clots from other/natural causes” and the answer is “more than twice as many”, which suggests that the clots might be nothing more than ordinary random events.
Her second question is “how many of the people who got blood clots after the vaccine died” and the answer is “None”.
She pauses, and then says, thoughtfully, “You know, I take oral contraceptives. I’ve heard there’s a risk of getting a blood clot from taking them, too. What is the risk from my taking oral contraceptives?” The answer is “The risk is about 1,000 times greater than this vaccine” (1,000 per million women get blood clots each year as a reaction to oral contraceptives).
So, the risk of a blood clot is thought to be less than one in a million, and no-one has died from a blood clot. The risk of getting a blood clot from the pill is 1,000 times greater and is accepted as a normal ordinary risk not worth thinking twice about. As for the risk of dying from a Covid infection, it is (if you are infected) 18,000 greater than the risk of dying from the vaccine. So far, 10% of the population has been infected, and that number increases every day, so if you want to express it another way, your risk of dying from Covid is 1,800 times greater than your risk of getting a blood clot from the vaccine.
So you – the 65 year old man – of course say to the medic, “Go ahead, I’ll take the shot of course.” Your female companion also agrees enthusiastically and rolls up her sleeve too.
Stop. What’s wrong with this picture?
The problem is the FDA and CDC decided, earlier this week, to “recommend” that health services stop offering the Johnson & Johnson single-shot Covid vaccine to everyone, due to six of the 7 million women between 18 – 48 who had received the vaccine developing blood clots that might be related to the vaccine. (We are not sure if 7 million women in this age group have received the vaccine, or 7 million women in total, or 7 million people people in total, which would of course increase the risk three-fold, to 3 in a million; maybe a bit more.)
Why has a vaccine that is 1,000 times safer than oral contraceptives been withdrawn, while oral contraceptives remain available in abundance?
You might answer “There are two other vaccines available, just make everyone wait a bit longer for those vaccines instead”. But oral contraceptives are only one form of birth control, there’s a huge long list of other forms of birth control, and both healthcare professionals and ordinary people accept oral contraceptive risks with scarcely a second thought (after sterilization it is the most commonly used form of birth control). Why are women free to choose and make their own decisions about risk and benefit with contraceptives, but not with a vaccine that is 1,000 times safer?
Another question. Why is a side-effect that might be occurring with some women in a certain age group causing the vaccine not to be offered to men?
Neither part of this decision gets close to making sense, and all the FDA and CDC can say is they are doing this “out of an abundance of caution” – a giveaway phrase that always means “we can’t think of a single reason to justify this stupid decision but we’re doing it anyway”.
Put it this way : If everyone in the country received the J&J vaccine, then 66 women aged between 18 – 48 might suffer from blood clots. Maybe one or two might die, maybe not. That’s the negative outcome. But the positive outcome is the virus would be conquered, and people would stop dying from it. Currently 750 people are dying from the virus, every day, in the US. In total, almost 580,000 people in the US have died from the virus so far.
So, if you were in charge of US public health, what would you choose :
(a) Banning the vaccine from everyone
(b) Banning the vaccine from women “at risk” between 18 – 48 and allowing everyone else to take it
(c) Allowing women to make their own choice between the massively greater risk of suffering and possibly dying from the virus or the immeasurably small risk of a blood clot from the vaccine, a risk 1,000 times less than the commonly accepted-without-a-thought risk with oral contraceptives
The CDC and FDA chose (a). Any rational person would choose (b) or (c). Isn’t that the obvious choice?
Well, that much overrated and omnipresent spokesman, Dr Fauci, tells us another reason why they decided to withdraw the vaccine. It would, he said, give the public more confidence in the vaccine when they allowed it to be used again.
Truly, he really said that, as reported here. Fauci has in the past boasted about how he uses rhetoric to fool the public into doing what he thinks best, and this might be another example. But the public isn’t as stupid as he thinks they are and we’re starting to tire of his platitudes dressed up as insights and shifting positions on things like masks (originally he said we didn’t need masks at all, and even though he was vaccinated back in December, he now proudly poses for the cameras while wearing two masks).
As for his belief that recommending against using the J&J vaccine would cause us all to be delighted and reassured the vaccine was safe (as a result of it being withdrawn as dangerous….) the opposite has happened – confidence in the vaccine has plunged from 57% before the announcement to 32% after – a 44% drop in confidence.
Maybe Dr Fauci should leave the demagoguery to politicians and stick to what he’s good at (what is that, actually?).
The increasingly ever-present theme in too many of the public policy decisions being made about the virus is the people we trust to make the right decisions are all too often making inexplicably wrong decisions. But no-one is ever held accountable, while we suffer the consequences – the 32.2 million of us who had experience a Covid infection so far, and the 578,987 of us who have died.
One Last Irony and Error
This article says the risk of getting a blood clot is 8 – 10 times higher from Covid than from the vaccine. We don’t fully understand their numbers, but the conclusion is clear – whatever the risk might be from the vaccine, the risk from the virus itself is greater.