Getting a vaccine is ‘one of the safer things you do in the day’, says expert

Aine Fox and Sam Blewett, PA
·5-min read

Getting a coronavirus vaccine is safer than driving or cycling to work, a Government scientific adviser has said.

Professor Stephen Reicher said having a Covid-19 jab is “actually one of the safer things you do in the day”.

Figures suggest the risk of developing a rare blood clot is about four people in a million who receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said, prompting a change in course to offer under 30s in the UK an alternative jab.

Prof Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours, said it must be remembered that the chances of such clots developing are “incredibly rare events”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “Something like 30 or 40 people drown in the bath every year, something like 1,000 people die falling down the stairs, something like 200 die from choking on their breakfast, and that’s many, many more deaths than we get from these vaccines so actually taking the vaccine is actually one of the safer things you do in the day, it’s definitely safer than cycling or driving to work. So these are incredibly rare events.”

Adults who have received Covid-19 vaccine
(PA Graphics)

Figures from Nomis, run by the University of Durham on behalf of the Office for National Statistics, showed that on average between 2015 and 2019 there were around 770 registered deaths a year from falling on and from stairs and steps.

The statistics, for England and Wales, also showed that there were an average of about 30 registered deaths from drowning in, or falling and then drowning in a bathtub, and about 210 registered deaths from inhalation of food causing an obstruction of the respiratory tract.

There were an average of about 40 deaths each year from adverse reactions from a drug or treatment in therapeutic use, the data also showed.

When it comes to road traffic fatalities in the UK in 2019 the fatality chance was about 1.2 in 1,000,000 for every 250 miles driven, according to data analysed by the Royal Statistical Society.

Up to the end of March, the MHRA had received 79 reports of blood clots accompanied by low blood platelet count, all in people who had had their first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, out of around 20 million doses given.

Of these, a total of 19 people have died – which would equate to around one in a million, although the cause has not been established in every case.

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Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, has urged people not to lose confidence in the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, describing it as “a great vaccine”.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Prof Harnden said there is a “much higher risk of getting severe blood clots from Covid than the extremely small risk from this vaccination”.

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines, said recent research has shown that clots on the lungs occur in 7.8% of people who have Covid-19, while clots in the legs – known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – happen in 11.2% of Covid-19 sufferers.

He told a briefing on Wednesday that almost a quarter (23%) of patients who end up in intensive care with Covid-19 “will have some form of clot”.

He added that up to 30% of people who develop Covid-19 will get thrombocytopenia (lowering of the platelet count).

“That puts into context that the risk of clots and lowered platelets is much higher with Covid-19 than these extremely rare events which are occurring with the vaccine,” he said.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician from the University of Cambridge, said it was “crucially important” that the risk was set in context, and said the information given this week “shows there is a benefit-risk balance”.

He told the PA news agency: “It looks like one in 100,000 for someone in their 20s or 30s, that’s about the risk of dying in a road accident in three months, or in some sort of accident in about a month.”

He said the balance of risk can depend on the situation, adding: “There is no hard and fast rule for any of this.”

He said a “substantial” part of the benefit of being vaccinated is knowing you are helping to protect people around you and “that is unbelievably important”.

On the risk of developing clots from the vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there was a similar risk in taking a long-haul flight.

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) the annual incidence of DVT is estimated to be about one in 1,000.

But the risk increases after long-haul flights, becoming one event per 106,667 flights that last less than four hours, one in 4,656 flights lasting more than four hours, and one in 1,264 flights lasting more than 16 hours.

While those are the figures for healthy people, the risk can increase further given other factors including obesity and age.

Dr Peter Arlett, head of data analytics at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said that each year around four in 10,000 women who take the contraceptive pill will develop blood clots.

Anthony Masters, statistical ambassador for the Royal Statistical Society, said: “There is a low level of background risk in everyday life. There are risks we accept and risks we tolerate – as benefits outweigh risks.

“The risks from Covid-19, including blood clotting and persistent symptoms after infection, are much greater than minimal risks from vaccination.”