Women's health is at risk. But AstraZeneca isn't where our focus should lie

Women’s health is at risk. But AstraZeneca isn’t where our focus should lie

AstraZeneca

Next Monday I’ll be getting the first of two AstraZeneca vaccinations against COVID-19.

As a 31 year old, the risk of developing a blood clot is marginally higher than normal with this decision, as has been reported widely. Blood clots have occurred in people taking the AstraZeneca vaccine at a rate of roughly one in every 250,000, with young women slightly more vulnerable.

While my preference, of course, would be the Pfizer vaccination which is yet to present any significant, life-threatening side effects, I ultimately perceive the risk associated with AZ to be tiny; blown out of whack by an over-hyped media and a flip-flopping government.

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The other fact I’m holding onto? As a young woman, there are threats to my life and health far greater than rare blood clots linked to AstraZeneca.

Contraceptive pills

When I was 17, I wandered into my GP for a check-up and was almost immediately referred onto the contraceptive pill.

The pill I was prescribed was also intended to manage moderate skin outbreaks– a combination pill linked to an even higher risk of blood clotting (about twice the rate) than standard contraceptive pills.

To give this more context, blood clots caused by the pill are estimated to affect one in every 1,000 women each year. For women prescribed Diane-35 (also known as Estelle, Juliet, Laila and Brenda) as I was, the risk is one in 500.

At the time, having been assured by my Doctor that the medication was safe, I happily took it. Moreover, I was not an anomaly. Five of my friends at the time were also taking Diane-35; attaining a prescription was always a seamless exercise.

In 2018, Australia’s Advisory Committee on Medicines which advises the TGA reviewed Diane-35 after multiple cases of associated clots across the country. The committee rejected calls to take this treatment off the shelf despite acknowledging that women using Diane-35 are more likely to get blood clots. It deemed that “the absolute excess risk is still small and is low”.

If a risk so high as 1 in 500 women is deemed “small and low”, then surely 1 in 250,000 (the risk linked to AZ) should be deemed negligible?

COVID-19

It seems a bit obvious, doesn’t it?

But for too long, young people have been sidelined in Australia’s vaccine prioritisation for COVID-19, despite leading epidemiologists frantically trying to remind the government that young people remain the most mobile in the community and are thus far more likely to transmit the virus.

But there’s another grim reality: early signs point to the fact that the Delta variant of COVID-19– the strain Australia is currently fighting– is a significant health threat for young people as noted by Nobel Prize-winning immunity and infection expert Peter Doherty.

“The message is that young people are at considerable risk and at higher risk than with the earlier variants of COVID,” he told the ABC.

“Young people shouldn’t think they’re at no risk or even minimal risks. Because it’s going to kill.”

This determination came in light of the tragic death of 38-year-old, Adriana Midori Takara in Sydney last week. And, with Sydney recording a further 239 new infections today, the threat to a predominantly unvaccinated demographic, is considerable.

Domestic and family violence

One in four women in this country have experienced violence at the hands of a current or former partner, with one woman a week losing her life. Critical services remain desperately under-resourced and funded.

Worse still, over the past 18 months, with ongoing restrictions and lockdowns impacting people’s lives and livelihoods, domestic violence rates have considerably increased. According to research from the Queensland University of Technology last month, service providers have seen a surge in demand, with nearly half reporting that their clients had encountered an increase in controlling behaviours. Experts describe the crisis as a “shadow pandemic”.

The message?

Without seeming cavalier, my overriding point is this: We should always be informed about what we’re putting in our bodies. Asking questions about the AstraZeneca vaccination and consulting health professionals beforehand is critical. But, at the same time, there are a vast number of seriously urgent women’s health matters that are routinely ignored requiring more of our attention.

It would be nice to see our passion and focus shifted to them for a change.

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