Recent articles claiming that The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is linked to blood clots is just one example of how one could interpret the media as having a negative effect on people’s attitudes to vaccinations.
The AstraZeneca vaccine had been approved for use within the European Union. Developed in partnership with Oxford University, this vaccine has an efficacy of 63.09 per cent in preventing COVID-19. But when Denmark received accounts of blood clots in people who had received a dose of the particular vaccine as well as one person who died after having multiple clots 10 days after the dose. They saw fit to suspend rollout of this vaccine.
The European medicines Agency (EMA) and SAGE (Strategic advisory group of experts of immunization) immediately stepped in and investigated this claim but concluded that there was no link between the vaccine and blood clots. Several European countries including France and Germany still halted their rollouts of the vaccine when more than 30 recipients were diagnosed with a condition known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or CVST. The majority of people affected were women under the age of 55. Independent researchers in Norway and Germany concluded that vaccines had the ability to trigger an autoimmune reaction which could have been a cause of blood clots in the brain and could be an explanation for incidents across Europe. However, this issue affected a very small amount of the population and the EMA emphasised that the benefits outweighed the potential risks of the vaccine and recommended vaccinations resume.
In Germany, only 13 cases of CVST were found amongst the 1.6 million people who received the vaccine. Twelve patients were women and three of them died. The researchers concluded in a statement that mostly all patients will show symptoms around four days after vaccination which present as headaches, dizziness or impaired vision and therefore could be diagnosed and treated effectively.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) appealed to the EU for countries not to pause any vaccination efforts and highlighted the importance that this was a routine investigation and proved that effective controls for vaccinations were in fact in place. Dr Soumya Swaminathan who is WHO’s chief scientist explained that there have been 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine injected all around the world and there has been no documented death linked to any of them. She explained that the rates at which blood clots have occurred in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine are less than the average number expected in the population at this time.
AstraZeneca has also stated that they received data of over 17 million people vaccinated and this has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots. But, regardless of the results of this – How damaging has this been to vaccination efforts?
A recent report by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) stated that around 7.8 million people have joined anti-vax campaigns since 2019. The authors have emphasised that decisions by media companies including news outlets to continue reporting misinformation and exaggerated headlines have produced many opportunities for people to undermine the effectiveness and importance of vaccination. The numbers continue to rise. Facebook has also recently reported that 31 million people follow anti-vaccination groups and similarly, 17 million subscribers to anti-vaccination YouTube accounts.
It is clear that sensationalist headlines that entice readers tend to generate more user engagement and therefore more revenue. The consequences of this are that people are repeatedly exposed to misinformation and negative thought patterns about vaccination.
The AstraZeneca Blood clot controversy is just one example of how the media have immediately demonised vaccinations when in reality, it is true that every single drug has risks and benefits.
Some people took to Twitter to explain that the AstraZeneca vaccination risk for blood clots is similar to that of the Oral Contraceptive pill that many people find beneficial and are happy to take but are quick to criticise the vaccine.
Since the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, countless conspiracy theories have surfaced as well as false claims that the vaccine is a method of mind control, altering DNA or even genocide. A recent survey released by the CCDH found that around one in six British people were unlikely to agree to being vaccinated against COVID-19 and similarly. One in six had not made up their mind yet. It is unclear whether current reporting of the AstraZeneca vaccine has affected this number.
The WHO continues to warn about the aggrandizement of COVID-19 vaccination issues and that it could continue to have serious consequences for public safety.
Image Credit: Herry Lawford, Flickr