Fear of the vax

Published April 22, 2021, 8:01 PM

by Dr. Kaycee Reyes

VACCINE, VAX OUT A health worker conducts a mock Covid-19 vaccination during a simulation exercise in Manila (Reuters)

Last year, the world was praying for a vaccine to put an end to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. With scientists around the world moving at unprecedented speeds, not one but several vaccines are currently being used globally in just a year since the pandemic began.

Now that vaccines are available, another problem arose: the growing hesitancy among individuals to get inoculated because of some of the vaccines’ reported side effects. Just last week, the Philippine FDA issued a pause in the AstraZeneca rollout, one of two vaccines currently available in the country, because of rare blood clots with low platelets reported abroad.

And with one vaccine left at the moment, the country is faced with limited supplies while dealing with a growing number of cases on the daily update. Should people pay attention to rare and/or possibly severe side effects that vaccines can bring? Is there a “best” vaccine, and should people wait for that instead?

Everyone is lucky to be living at a time when science and technology have advanced to how they are today. An example is the speed at which effective vaccines have been developed against a pandemic that previously took years to make and get approved.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca two-dose vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, was one of the first few vaccines to get the green light for production and distribution. Compared to Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna at the time, this vaccine had its own advantages as it cost much less than its counterparts and handling and storage were not as complicated as with the other two. It was also approved for emergency use here and in a lot of countries abroad early this year.

It had, however, several suspensions in other countries recently because of reported blood clots (thrombosis) with low blood platelet counts (thrombocytopenia), with some becoming fatal. All symptoms appeared around two weeks after the first dose. AstraZeneca refuted this claim, citing lack of evidence. Currently, AstraZeneca has been administered to 17 million individuals, with reported incidences at less than 40.

With rare but serious side effects, should the AstraZeneca vaccine be a concern? The World Health Organization (WHO) states that thromboembolic events occur frequently, and that the reported incidences do not mean a causal link with the vaccine. WHO is in constant communication with several health agencies and its team is also assessing the vaccine at the moment. As of this writing, they are still recommending AstraZeneca as the benefits still outweigh the risks. Recently, the country’s FDA suspended its use for individuals 60 years and below, citing reports from abroad and awaiting results from the review by local experts and the guidance of WHO, according to their press release. But to date, there are still no reported rare side effects in the country. While benefits do outweigh the risks, it is up to the FDA to gauge their tolerance on the potential risks.

No vaccine is “perfect,” and no particular brand is the best. All vaccines cannot be compared as their parameters or criteria were all different during their trials. While it is right to exercise caution with rare side effects reported on vaccines, it is also important to take note of the incidence and how it compares to the risks if one did not take it at all. Getting vaccinated is indeed a personal choice, but if the benefits of getting inoculated outweigh the risks, maybe it is time to reconsider. And if you have decided to get the jab, the best one to take is the one that is available.