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Something was missing from the government’s announcement on AstraZeneca

People are being denied the chance to make a genuinely informed decision about the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

By Stephen Bush

Something was missing from the government’s press conference announcing that the under-30s will be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine where possible: sex.

Sex was missing twice over: females are at a significantly lower risk from Covid-19 than males. And if you are on the contraceptive pill, you already have a higher risk of developing blood clots, whether you receive the AstraZeneca vaccine or not.

While I don’t think the increased risk for anyone, male or female, on the pill or not, is sufficient to outweigh the societal benefits of getting the vaccine, the individual risk calculus is quite different if you are female and in your 30s or younger, than if you are male.

Yet the government’s presentation did not mention any of this, which I think was a mistake for two reasons. First, if you are male, it’s really important and useful to understand that your risk from the AstraZeneca vaccine is significantly smaller, and your risk from coronavirus significantly larger, compared to a female who is taking the pill. Second, if you are on the pill, you would reasonably expect that the government will inform you that you are a) already at a greater risk and b) whether or not the two risks interact in any way.

The striking thing is that individual government ministers are not slow to tell us that “sex matters” when, as they search for a new frontier for culture war, it gives them a chance to demonise trans people. But when an actual, tangible sex-based difference in policy appears, when sex really does matter, and when providing clear information about sex differences is important for large numbers of people, the government says nothing. Perhaps that’s because the factors and risks involved are complex and nuanced, and don’t lend themselves well to easy slogans – which remain the preferred setting for this government on pretty much any issue you care to name. 

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[see also: Is the UK in the clutches of a culture war?]