HBI Deals+Insights / COVID-19

Did we get Covid vaccination wrong?

There will be many aspects of the world’s response to Covid-19 that will be debated for years to come. Were governments too rash and draconian in their imposition of lockdowns? Or were they too slow and hesitant, costing thousands of lives? Was it appropriate to more or less completely halt elective care for months on end? Or was this unavoidable to prevent hospitals overflowing? Was it right to ban relatives from saying goodbye to their quarantined loved ones, or to effectively put mental health patients in solitary confinement (as happened in many NHS trusts in the UK)? How effective were mandates to wear masks in public places? 

Possibly the most divisive issue of all is vaccination. At one extreme you have those who believe that the more doses administered the better, and that anyone who is reluctant should be forced by vaccine mandates if necessary. At the other extreme you have conspiracy theorists who believe wacky theories about governments inserting microchips into vaccines to track people or that the vaccines alter your DNA.

But there are, in fact, more scientifically-based reasons for vaccine ‘hesitancy’ or ‘scepticism’. Most obviously, there have been a comparatively small number of cases of severe side-effects and injuries caused by vaccines, as well as a few deaths. Public health officials are quick to point out that the numbers and risk of these are far outweighed by the risks of not being vaccinated, but is this always the case for the individual?

Are the young and healthy, who are at particularly low risk of developing life-threatening Covid, always better off receiving a vaccine dose than not, regardless of type of vaccine and whether they’ve had Covid or any doses of Covid vaccines previously? The decision by the UK to stop giving the Astrazeneca vaccine to under 40s based on their higher risk of getting life-threatening blood clots, would suggest not. 

A bias or presumption in favour of vaccination may have cost some lives. The risk of blood clots from Astrazeneca has been revised upwards, from one in 250,000 initially to one in 50,000. Jack Hurn, a 26 year old graduate from Devon in the UK, died two weeks after receiving his dose, which he chose to take based on being told the one in 250,000 figure by a doctor in June 2021, advice which was already out of date at the time. His tragic death will be weighed against those saved by vaccination, of course, in a morbid balancing exercise.

It doesn’t help that health authorities haven’t always been as rigorous or as transparent at reporting injuries from vaccination as they have been about reporting injuries from Covid. German health insurer BKK reported a “significant alarm signal” with regards to vaccine side effects. The company claims the number of cases of vaccine side effects were many times higher than what was officially being reported by German Ministry of Health based on its doctor billing data covering millions of insured Germans, 400,000 of which it estimates could have visited the doctor for vaccine complications.

Potentially an even bigger issue is that we may never know whether there are any long term side-effects to Covid vaccines, as the control groups in the vaccine trials were vaccinated as soon as they passed regulatory approval. 

As we report this week, a new meta-analysis published in The Lancet presents the work of a group of Danish scientists, who found some evidence suggesting the mRNA Covid vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) might actually be much less beneficial than the Adenovirus ones (AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson) when measured by all-cause mortality, possibly due to ‘nonspecific’ effects, which are effects to the immune system’s overall resilience to fighting diseases. Shockingly, regulatory bodies currently only test vaccines for their effects on target diseases and for acute side effects, not for long term side effects or nonspecific effects, or for their impact on all-cause mortality, which is after all what people really care about.

So there is a lot to reflect upon and learn from, no doubt. Currently the debates around these issues are mostly pretty political and emotive, with a high degree of polarisation, and sometimes even censorship. But, as the dust settles, hopefully a more calm and reflective discussion, based on a cool-headed and balanced analysis of the data, will emerge.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Martin De Benito Gellner or call 0207 183 3779.