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Should you be worried about the potential side-effects of the Covishield vaccine?

Should you be worried about the potential side-effects of the Covishield vaccine?
Ever since the virus reared its ugly head and briefly sent the world into despair, the coronavirus has remained a staple, albeit almost sidelined, part of the news cycle. Despite this, the topic has come to the forefront of controversy once again, with an extremely popular COVID-19 vaccine now under scrutiny.

Considering that the world is still healing from the scars left behind by the coronavirus tragedy, it is imperative that we gauge the situation to avoid any unwarranted public paranoia. Let’s look at the facts behind the ongoing AstraZeneca (or Covishield, as it is known in India) vaccine controversy, and determine if there really is a cause for worry.
What happened?
Shortly after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, UK-based Jamie Scott experienced a harrowing ordeal. He developed a brain clot and severe bleeding, resulting in permanent brain injury. This condition, known as Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS), can lead to dangerously low blood clot and platelet levels, posing a grave risk to those affected. Jamie's struggles with memory loss, impaired vision, and diminished cognitive abilities compelled him to seek legal recourse against the pharmaceutical company in 2023.

Jamie's legal representative contends that AstraZeneca minimized the potential risks linked to their vaccines. Moreover, reports indicate that over 50 vaccinated individuals experienced similar adverse conditions, with numerous cases resulting in fatalities or severe injuries. Despite these assertions, the pharmaceutical company refutes the allegations, stating that they do not acknowledge a causal relationship between the vaccine and Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS) on a generic level.

However, a year of court wrangling later, legal documents submitted by AstraZeneca have now admitted that their vaccine can cause TTS in very rare cases, although the causal mechanism is still not well known. This revelation has led to renewed uproar against the vaccine’s side-effects.
Is there cause for worry?
In short words, not really. Links between the AstraZeneca vaccine and vaccine-induced immune TTS have been scientifically identified since early 2021, soon after the first COVID-19 vaccines had come out. However, it is so very rare — a few dozen reported cases among the millions administered — that even the World Health Organisation has deemed the vaccine “safe and effective” for all individuals aged 18 and above. Moreover, even influenza, H1N1 and rabies vaccines can cause TTS in very rare instances.

Further, it is important to note that an infection with COVID-19 is itself a major cause for clot, heart attacks and strokes. Being vaccinated actually lowers these risks. There is also the fact that all vaccines or drugs carry potential side-effects, and these medical interventions are only cleared for release after determining that their benefits vastly outweigh any complications.

Finally, the TTS side-effects — which include symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision, chest pain, leg swelling or tiny blood spots under the skin — manifest between 1-6 weeks of vaccination. Considering that most Indians received their Covishield jab a couple of years ago, there should be no reason to panic now.
Is it time to consider alternate vaccines?
There is no particular hard evidence that suggests the supremacy of one vaccine over another, considering that they all carry varying degrees of side-effects. That being said, Covaxin boasts a higher efficacy than Covishield, and has better research data among Indian subjects.

However, it may also be important to know that the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been discontinued in many countries, mainly due the aforementioned risk of blood clotting in certain age groups.

Whatever the choice, the fact of the matter remains that these vaccines have saved millions since their introduction, and it is pertinent that we continue taking them diligently, unless any premier health authorities recommend otherwise.


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