Last year I had to get some teeth out. The dentist sat me down and took me through the risks of getting the local anaesthetic, including that I could die. I had the choice and I went ahead.
Sometime this year I will probably get the coronavirus vaccine. Like all medical treatments there will be some risk but, again, it should be my choice.
There is enormous social pressure for everyone to get the coronavirus vaccine. That is understandable given the costs of lockdowns and restrictions over the past year. But in the rush to put COVID behind us we should protect the principle that each individual should have a choice over their own health.
We are lucky that the vaccines being used appear safe but they are not without risk. Last week over 20 countries paused the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns that some deaths had been connected to clotting incidents, some of which proved fatal.
I think we should have paused too while the European Medicines Agency (EMA) conducted a review of the cases. We missed an opportunity to build confidence with those that remain sceptical about getting the vaccine. If we had taken the step to pause, we could say to sceptics that we will always be willing to halt the rollout if there is even a hint of safety concerns.
The EMA ruled last week that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe overall, but it also warned that there was a "possible link to rare blood clots". The EMA had detected 12 cases of Cerebral Venous Severe Thrombosis (CVST), or in English blood clotting in the brain. You would have expected 1.35 cases of such a condition in normal circumstances.
Because this is such a rare occurrence it is too difficult to establish whether the vaccine caused these conditions. But there is enough concern that European authorities will update the product information to include detail on these risks, and Australian authorities will do the same.
Germany, France and Italy have restarted vaccinations but, at the time of writing, Norway, Sweden and Denmark are continuing to pause vaccinations while they wait for more evidence. Professor Holme, a hematology expert and chief physician of the Oslo University Hospital said that "Nothing but the vaccine can explain why these individuals had this immune response."
In light of these findings, it becomes more important that we remember that just because the vaccine is safe and effective for the population overall, some individuals may still face higher risks. Some people have genetic conditions that make them susceptible to clotting. They, and others with high risk conditions, should not face undue social pressure to get a particular vaccine. People with such risks should feel free to consult their doctor and make decisions about their own health.
We should also make available to such people a choice of other vaccines that may be safer for them.
Our response to the pandemic has over-ridden many of our freedoms. Restrictions on business and travel were justified to protect the vulnerable and we have done that well in Australia. We should not now reverse that approach and sacrifice the vulnerable in the rush to get herd immunity. All Australians should feel safe to make their own decisions about their health.