Despite the wrinkles and gray hair, I should have been younger than I should have been. At least 100% of the UK adult population has been vaccinated with at least one dose, but your columnist is not old enough to be one of them. Who knew?
That means I still have the joy of a job in front of me and I can’t wait for the sweet supremacy of immunity. All vaccines available in the UK are widely effective in preventing serious illness and increasingly they seem to reduce the risk of infection.
And yet, when the needle finally lands on my arm, I have to suppress a nervous wrinkle. The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed in my home Oxford, has rarely made headlines – due to the suspicion that a recent form of blood clotting may be a little less rare. The same suspicion has led the US authorities to make recommendations Johnson and Johnson vaccine suspension.
Feelings are strong in our gut. The Bavarian Alpspeaks viewing platform is a cantilevered structure, where a mesh floor reveals a seamlessly large drop. My rational mind tells me that it is perfectly safe. My legs and my stomach totally tell me something else; Physically I find it difficult to carry myself towards the end.
The philosopher Tamar Gendler coined the term “alif” to describe this instinct, the epithet of “faith.” I believe the Alpspeaks platform is safe; I make it “dangerous” that it’s extremely dangerous.
And the vaccine? Putting “Alif” aside, I believe it is extremely secure. The coagulation aspect of vaccines is rare – so rare that we are still convinced that it exists. It is certainly very rare to discover this in controlled clinical trials, where millions of participants are given a single dose of the vaccine.
An educated estimate, based on data from the United Kingdom, is that vaccinating with Astrageneca jab has a risk of one in a million deaths – no more than an accidental death while traveling to a vaccination clinic. If the estimate is correct, vaccinating people across the UK with a single dose of this particular vaccine can result in severe blood clots in 67 people.
It sounds bad – there’s no such thing as a “deadly blood clot.” Yet the number of deaths from coronavirus in the UK has never been below 67 between mid-October and the end of March – and sometimes as high as 67 per hour. In other words, for a full winter wave, a one-day delay in vaccination was more risky than a vaccine.
Individual risks vary: Adolescents are at greater risk of severe doses of Covid-19 and possibly slightly higher side effects of the vaccine. Researchers at the Winton Center for Risk and Evidence Communication have put together a great visualization of the approximate risk, showing that for most people, the vaccine prevents much more than the damage it can cause.
For young people, however, in the event of an epidemic, the risk balance may be less clear, which is why British authorities are planning a short delay to ensure that young people receive a separate vaccine.
The numbers should be very reassuring. But our emotions do not always respond to numbers. Its author is David Ropik How risky is that really?, Pointing to various factors that make some risks bigger in the imagination.
The most obvious is Salary: It has had saturation coverage in recent weeks, especially in the United Kingdom and the EU. Blood – the story of clottingHowever, by any measure, there have been more deaths than Covid-19. It is understandable – news, above all – but it misleads our instincts. The logical question is, “Statistically, the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the disadvantages?” But the simple question is, “Can I easily remember these dangers?”
A second factor is control. Driving is more deadly than flying, but most people are more afraid to fly: they think they can protect themselves while driving, but not when flying. There are steps we can all take to reduce the risk of infection and there is nothing we can do to reduce the risk of a serious reaction to a vaccine. However, the Plain and Covid-19 vaccines are still very safe – and the car and Covid-19 vaccines are not infected.
The third thing is faith. I know Boris Johnson’s track record with the truth and I’m not convinced whenever I hear him announce Confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Scientists, fortunately, remain more broadly loyal. Sir David Spiegelhalter, a professor at the Winton Center, told me that last week’s announcement was a “risky communication tour de force”, largely because politicians were not seen. Instead, scientists and medical officials have presented risks and benefits in a strong way, doing much to gain the trust of visitors. It counts for a great deal. In the end, our view of vaccines is not based on data, but on a more basic premise: Do I think these people are in my best interests?
The information tells me that the vaccine is not only safe but also life-saving for me and the people around me. I would still be nervous when I finally got to the clinic, but I can’t imagine that it would be nearly as bad as the Alpix platform. And what if I had to walk on that platform to save my life? I wouldn’t like it, but I’d do it in a heartbeat.
Tim Harford’s new book is “How to Connect the World” (UK) / “Data Detective” (US)
Follow @Ftimag Be the first to know about our latest stories on Twitter