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The Vaccine vs The Pill

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Volunteer Label writer Sebastian Wieneke analyses and compares the risk of blood clots for both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the contraceptive pill.

Although the UK continues to lead Europe with its inoculation programme, concerns due to suspected blood clotting in a small number of AstraZeneca vaccine recipients have led to the Government’s medical office saying that under 30s will be offered an alternative.

Following this news, many are drawing comparisons between the side effects of the vaccine and the side effects of effects of oral hormonal contraceptives. Why is this the case? What are the risks?

Comparisons to the Contraceptive Pill

Growing discourse surrounding the safety of the Vaccines has turned public attention back to the debate on the safety and side effects of oral contraceptive pills – or “the pill” – as it increases levels of oestrogen in the body, which can lead to a higher occurrence of blood clots in women on the pill than those who are not.

You may have seen one of several infographics highlighting this difference on social media, such as this one posted by ‘the know media’ on Instagram (courtesy of Dr Lauren Jackson):

https://www.instagram.com/p/CMjiL06BvIl/

Other women have also pointed out that the health risks posed by hormonal contraception were not properly explained to them when they were first put on the pill, usually while they were still quite young. Grace Campbell discusses her experience in the post below:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CNZxKxvBDoD/

Although the health risks from the pill have been documented for quite some time, many have been critical of the contrast between the response from governments concerning the side effects of the vaccine compared to the already well-known side effects of some hormonal contraceptives.

Despite this, the British Pregnancy Advisory Board (BPAS) has warned against the comparison, citing fears that it could lead to a “pill scare” – and a significant increase in unplanned pregnancies.

The statement was met with support from several women, including some in the medical field. “Sensationalist headlines and tweets don’t leave room for nuanced understanding of medicine and statistics”, one reply read. Some also noted that though there was a link between the pill and increased occurrence of thrombotic events, “all cause [sic]mortality is lower for women on the pill”.

“Extremely small” risk

 England’s chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam announced that under 30s would be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine. This followed a press release from the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) earlier this month, asserting that although there was still no proof that the jab had led to blood clots, the link between them was growing stronger. MHRA reported 79 cases of thrombosis, of which 19 deaths were linked, after the first (AstraZeneca) Jab had been administered.

Although risk of clots after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine remains “extremely small”, MHRA CEO Dr June Raine said that the possibility of serious illness or death from COVID-19 in contrast to that from – potentially vaccine induced – thrombosis was more balanced in young people and therefore it was recommended that they be offered an alternative. Due to the much higher rates of death and serious long-term illness in older COVID-19 patients, the hazards posed by the vaccine – if any – are worth taking a chance on compared to contracting the virus.

Edited by Izzie Naish – News Editor

Header designed by Annabel Smith – Deputy Head of Design

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Label News Editor 2020-21

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