Vaccines — the risk in perspective

Despite being presented with scientific facts, not even debatable, there is still this lunatic fringe of anti-vaxxers and many people who remain vaccine hesitant, obtaining all of their information from some form of social media and not health experts who rely on science published in peer-reviewed journals.

All of the anti-vaxxers were not alive when children would die in infancy from serious illnesses such as diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, as a few examples or be permanently disabled from conditions such as polio.

The widespread vaccination programs of the last few decades have seen the vast majority of children kept safe from all of these deadly illnesses, including very serious bacterial infections such as meningococcal meningitis and haemophilus influenzae pneumonia.

Because of this ridiculous and dangerous anti-vaccine campaign, we have seen unvaccinated children dying from whooping cough, as one example.

Let us now consider the facts around our current health crisis. COVID-19 has now killed well over 4 million people around the world and over the next month we should probably see these numbers approach 4 1/2 million.

This new Delta strain is clearly much more contagious. The initial Wuhan strain in Australia had around a 3% mortality rate as opposed to the 22 deaths out of 4000 cases in New South Wales with a current mortality rate of 0.55%. The Delta strain has caused a few deaths in younger people but is probably less deadly because of the significant amount of vaccinated people in older age groups.

When you consider standard medical therapy, this can be divided into pharmaceutical therapy, procedural interventions such as coronary stenting, surgical treatment and for specific cases, radiotherapy. Also, there is vaccination.

If you were aware of the potential complications of any medical therapies in the above group, you would never go anywhere near a doctor. But, life is very much about risk and benefits. Of all the medical therapies available, there is no doubt that vaccination is clearly the safest and most effective. This is not opinion, this is fact when you look at the sheer numbers.

To give a very relevant example, there is a medical therapy used in millions of patients every day around the world known as heparin. Heparin has been a standard workhorse, blood thinning agent used to flush cannulas, given as a subcutaneous injection to prevent clotting and also given intravenously in cases of acute severe clotting disorders. It is also standard to use heparin for many cardiac interventions.

Heparin, however, can induce a particular antibody that attacks platelet factor 4, making the platelets much stickier and thus forming clots. This occurs in about one in 500 cases i.e. a 0.2% incidence in the general medical and surgical population in hospitals and may be even more prevalent in people following coronary artery bypass grafting in the range of 1 to 3% of patients.

The Astrazeneca vaccine, which has been given very bad press and marketed very poorly in this country, produces exactly the same antibody as heparin, inducing exactly the same clotting syndrome. In people over the age of 50, this occurs in one in 50,000 cases and below the age of 50, one in 35,000 cases vaccinated with Astrazeneca.

There is a condition known as the anti-phospholipid antibody syndrome producing very similar antibodies induced by heparin and the Astrazeneca vaccine. This condition is, in fact, one of the contra-indications to receiving the Astrazeneca vaccine. The antibodies associated with this condition occur in 1 to 5% of healthy people and the actual syndrome that is associated with clotting is 5 cases per 100,000 people.

This is slightly higher than the syndrome associated with Astrazeneca and it may well be that it is these people who do not know they have the antibody prior to the vaccination who develop the clotting syndrome following the injection. What I’m inferring is that the vaccine precipitated the clotting, but is not the cause. This clearly needs to be investigated further.

The obvious fact here is the risk of death and serious illness from COVID-19. Many people are running to the hills to avoid having an Astrazeneca vaccine but no one bats an eyelid about receiving Heparin in hospitals. Many people say they are waiting for the safer and more effective Pfizer vaccine but don’t realise that both vaccinations are equally effective at preventing serious illnesses and death from COVID-19. Also, especially in men below the age of 30, there is a very small but significant risk of myocarditis-inflammation of the heart muscle, in people receiving the Pfizer vaccination. This occurs in about four people per million so is therefore, again, very rare.

The obvious fact here is that the risk of death from vaccination is one in 1 million, whereas the risk of death from the Delta strain of COVID-19 in Australia is around one in 180, including a small amount of deaths in the younger age groups. When are people who believe in the anti-vaccine stance going to wake up and accept scientific fact? Unfortunately, I suspect the answer is never.

Dr Walker is an expert in the field of preventative cardiology and has published seven books. He gives lectures nationally and internationally.