Do not pause vaccinating
Medical agencies throughout the world have repeatedly paused or even halted vaccination programs in response to adverse events out of “an abundance of caution”. We are experts in the assessment of risk, the analysis of statistics, and in the value of information and we respectfully disagree. An abundance of caution means minimising risk and in these cases an abundance of caution dictates that vaccinations should not be stopped while an assessment is made.
As we have explained in a longer essay, halting vaccinations due to worries about side-effects is wrong-headed and dangerous.
Evaluating the risk
We can summarise the situation with the following analogy. If you are running in the woods and you twist your ankle, ordinarily the sensible thing to do is stop running, examine your ankle, try to determine if it is broken and so forth.
However, if you are being chased by a bear, this is not a good idea. Our current circumstances are akin to being chased by a bear: COVID-19 is a dangerous and deadly disease and will remain so for some time to come. We are in the fortunate position that we can keep running while we examine our ankle, and that is exactly what we should do.
The devil is always in the details: how bad is the bear, and how bad is the ankle? We analyze the risks from COVID-19 and the risks from vaccination with AstraZeneca and J&J.
For most people, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks: the chances of dying if you are not vaccinated are more than a hundred times greater than the chance if you do not get vaccinated. Whatever information is acquired during the pause or delay, the result of the evaluation is a foregone conclusion: the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.
Unless other vaccines are in plentiful supply—which is currently not the case anywhere—it is a bad idea to pause or stop particular vaccines: the delay will only cause unnecessary harm including death. That is why the better regulatory agencies such as the European Medicines Agency (EU) and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (UK) have consistently recommended against pauses and delays.
Weighing the data
To give a brief indication of what the data shows: the additional risk of death from vaccination with AstraZeneca or J&J is not yet known, but the best available estimate suggests it could be one in a million, and certainly no more than ten in a million. How big is this? One in a million is also the risk of death from a day of skiing and the risk of death from driving 240 km in Germany. The risk of death from other causes is much higher.
For a 55-64 year old in the USA the daily risk of death (all causes) is about twenty-five in one million. This means that if you are vaccinated with one of these vaccines you might increase your chances of dying from twenty-five in a million to twenty-six in a million in a single day, and you are twenty-five times more likely to die of something else than the vaccine. In contrast, COVID-19 is an extremely dangerous ongoing risk that is hugely mitigated through vaccination. In the USA 2,280 per million adults have died from COVID-19, while for individuals who have been fully vaccinated, the risk of dying from COVID-19 is reduced to about one in a million.
One size does not fit all. Some people are at greater risk and some at lesser risk. However, we have a much better idea than regulatory agencies about our likely exposure to COVID-19 and deserve both to be informed of the risks and allowed the opportunity to get vaccinated.
If you need even more convincing, in addition to our own essay we can recommend a more detailed analysis of the French case by Christian Golier, who estimates a 1-week delay in the vaccination campaign raises the death toll by approximately 2,500, and reduces wealth by 8 billion euros, and a Cambridge University website that assesses risks based on age and exposure.
An “abundance of caution” in the face of COVID-19 just isn’t worth the risk. As the data show, this virus is a very dangerous bear.
Peter Hansen, a former faculty member in the EUI’s Economics Department, is Professor of Economics at the University of North Carolina. David Levine is Joint Chair Professor of Economics at the EUI’s Department of Economics and the Robert Schuman Centre.