Support 100 years of independent journalism.

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. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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