Bill Harvey: The second horse is red
Author: Bill Harvey
I could have cheered when, at a recent press briefing, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam addressed growing fears about vaccine side effects by pulling out an information leaflet from a pack of over-the-counter paracetamol. His needing to do this, however, is a timely reminder of the dangers in reporting data.
Consider the following:
Covid-19 vaccines have significant side effects, some serious. This is true. But so do pretty well all drugs and most foodstuffs. And the more they are used, the longer the list of adverse drug responses (ADRs). What is missing here, of course, is the numbers involved and the factors influencing the likelihood of ADRs. And if you want to reassure worried patients, the info leaflet for aspirin should do the trick. One glance at this makes you realise just how comparatively safe the vaccine is.
ADRs are twice as likely with the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine than the Pfizer. As of March 7, this remains true. What is not reported, however, is that 12 million AZ vaccines have been issued with just 61,000 yellow card reports. The excellent Professor David Spiegelhalter looked at these reports and found ADRs including palpitations (1,318), ‘feeling jittery’ (10), ‘screaming’ (4), chilblains (10), alcohol poisoning (2), libido increased (1), and libido decreased (1). My favourite, however, has to be the pregnancy discovered immediately after vaccination. A reminder to all ECPs of their responsibility to report ADRs accurately.
Finally, eye health awareness champion, Dominic Cummings popped out last week. He described the six-year delay and post-Horizon £1 billion cut in science funding, along with the £120 million hole in the UK Research and Innovation budget, as representative of ‘the freedom to improve the UK’s science base’ post-Brexit. Clearly, both portcullis spatial frequency and crenel to merlon contrast ratios need to be reviewed as to their clinical usefulness in eye care.