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Bishop Martin Seeley says we have to balance the risks over jabs

I don’t ever remember being perplexed about different sorts of vaccines before. It never occurred to me to check what sort of vaccines our children were being given, or the efficacy and safety of vaccines I received to visit our sister diocese in Tanzania, East Africa, during 2019.

And here we are in a most extraordinary situation, in a global pandemic, after the excitement and hope brought about by the rapid international development of vaccines for the virus, we find those huge vaccination programmes are being stalled across the world.

Two vaccines in particular seem to have caused this slow down – the Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Johnson and Johnson vaccines.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has a very low risk of side effects
The AstraZeneca vaccine has a very low risk of side effects

They have been found to be associated with a very rare blood clot in about one case per million. A very rare side-effect of medication is officially considered as less than one per ten thousand.

And because that has resulted, for example, within this country in the tragic deaths of seven people out of 18 million who had received the vaccine by late March, people have become wary.

That wariness has taken more extreme forms in some countries, like Denmark where they have banned its use all together and in some developing countries, at the very point that global vaccination roll-out is so vital.

Bishop Martin Seeley
Bishop Martin Seeley

The wariness maybe understandable because people have died from the blood clots, and our fears may override our reason, when the danger from Covid-19 itself is so much higher than the danger from the vaccine.

After all, so far 127,000 people have died from Covid in the UK, and nearly 3 million world-wide.

And the wariness may have developed because the blood clots did not emerge as a side-effect in the trials – not surprisingly given how rare they are – whereas allergic reactions to the Pfizer jab did, which is why, when you receive one, you have to sit for 15 minutes before you go home, to check you do not have an adverse reaction.

I do think we are in danger of responding like the Israelites in the wilderness, complaining to Moses about being hungry, and wishing they were back in slavery in Egypt.

There is a peculiar lure of the familiar, and we have become very familiar with life in the pandemic, and despite living in this situation of very high risk, are wary of taking a much much smaller risk to escape the danger we are in.

There is help coming, because of course the extraordinary medical scientific resources in this country and around the world have been put to work to diagnose and treat these rare blood clots before they become life threatening.

This is especially important to continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine which has been produced to sell at a low price to make it globally affordable, and it is easily transported, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which can only be transported at very low temperatures.

A very recent study, just published, shows that 93 per cent of people more than 80 years of age develop anti-bodies against Covid-19 five or six weeks after a single Pfizer shot, and 87 per cent after a single AstraZeneca one.

Fortunately, in this country people seem to be continuing to want to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, in the face of the very, very tiny risk.

No one is safe until everyone in the world is safe – because more variants of the virus will appear, the longer the virus spreads.

The whole world needs to be vaccinated to bring us all to a point where we can live with Covid-19, and respond with boosters and probably annual vaccinations to new variants, just as we do with flu.

So I am praying for a restoration of confidence in the extraordinary achievement of vaccine development and global roll-out.

This is essential to help us restore the levels of human contact and interaction that are so essential to every one of us as we continue the care and generosity we have seen in our communities and churches and build a better future.

- Bishop Martin Seeley is the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and is writing a weekly article for readers while church services are disrupted by the pandemic

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