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Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine ignites debate on female contraception

If blood clots have halted entire vaccine rollouts, should we be taking more time to consider the side effects of female contraception? 

Over a dozen countries around the globe have restricted use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine due to fears surrounding potential side effects.

Germany, Spain, and Italy are amongst the nations restricting usage, only distributing the vaccine to those over the age of 60. This week the UK announced it will be offering alternative vaccinations to those under 30.

The reason? The AstraZeneca vaccine has been linked to blood clotting.

The attention on this specific side effect has ignited an online debate regarding women’s use of the contraceptive pill – which poses a much greater risk of blood clotting.

Now, there is a lot of science to unpack here. To break it down, in recent months the AstraZeneca vaccine has been linked to deaths related to or caused by blood clots.

In the UK, 30 people out of 18 million who have received the AstraZeneca jab have developed a blood clot, out of these 30 people MHRA, The UK’s medicine regulatory body, confirmed 7 had died.

In Europe these numbers seem to be higher amongst those vaccinated with the AZ jab. Germany have reported 31 clots and 9 deaths out of 2.7 million people receiving AZ.

According to England’s health minister Matt Hancock, the risk of blood clots posed by the AZ vaccine is the ‘equivalent risk of taking a long-haul flight’. The EU’s medicines regulator, meanwhile, stated that the unusual blood clots should be listed as a possible but ‘very rare’ side effect.

The debate around female contraception

The UK announcing an alternative option for under 30’s needing the vaccine because of AstraZeneca’s 0.0004% chance of blood clotting has caused many people to point out the similar side effects of the female contraceptive pill. Each year, around 1 in 1,000 women will develop a blood clot.

Journalist Vicky Spratt questioned the government’s change of heart. ‘If this isn’t okay [then] why is hormonal contraception? The risk of blood clots is higher with the pill?’

Drawing attention to the importance of understanding the ‘rare nature of what is being reported’, Jess Phillip’s tweeted about her own experience with a blood clot.

This spike in conversation regarding the female contraceptive pill was continued by Labour politician Alice Perry on Twitter, who argued that we should be mentioning unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, depression, and mood swings more frequently.

Professor Adam Finn, a leading vaccine expert, told Good Morning Britain that ‘the risks of thrombosis that come with taking the pill are very much higher (than the AstraZeneca vaccine)’. He said every year women run a risk of getting some kind of thrombosis that can be severe and even life-threatening.

Where does this leave us moving forward?

The UK government’s U-turn on under 30’s in Britain receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine does make the risk of blood clots seem extremely weighted. It is no surprise that the decision has caused uproar amongst those comparing the risks of the contraceptive pill taken and prescribed to women around the world every single day.

Taking into account the current health crisis we are living in and the pressure on governments around the globe to achieve large-scale vaccine roll-outs, it is no surprise the British press and government are doing their best to stop fear around their homegrown vaccine from spreading.

The choice to offer alternative vaccines to under 30’s is a nuanced one and has come packaged with a government campaign to maintain public confidence in the jab.

This conversation has highlighted the disproportionate burden faced by women when it comes to contraceptive options, though this isn’t new information.

Alternatives to the more traditional forms of contraceptives have been in clinical trials for years but have seemingly never obtained the funding or public attention to be deemed a priority in the medical world.

The fears associated with AstraZeneca should not prevent people from getting their vaccines, but should shed a light on the important issues faced by women that are often not spoken about enough. This needs to help move forward the efforts to create alternative birth controls, rather than be another preventative obstacle.

If you have any questions or personal concerns about blood clots and the contraceptive pill you should check out both ‘Stop the Clot’ and ‘Women and Blood Clots’.