The mainly media-led debate about the Astrazeneca vaccine has caused uncertainty in large parts of the population: Is it safe to be vaccinated with this vaccine?
Yes! – Says someone who should know: Professor Dr. med. Susanne Herold is close to the action. She holds the professorship for infectious diseases of the lungs at the Medical Clinic II for Pneumology, Infectiology, Intensive Care Medicine, Nephrology & Gastroenterology at the University Hospital Gießen and Marburg (UKGM) in Gießen. And in addition to her work as a scientist as a practicing doctor, she also has a lot to do with patients on site.
In an interview with the RHÖN health blog, she answers the most important questions on the subject. And also warns of what must not happen to Germany now.
Professor Herold, the uncertainty surrounding the Astrazeneca vaccine is great at the moment. What do you say to your patients if they have concerns about this?
Astrazeneca’s vaccine effectiveness data is similar to that of the other vaccines available. This is proven by extensive data records from many millions of people who have been vaccinated, including from Great Britain. We also know that the vaccine from Astrazeneca prevents severe Covid illnesses and death at least as well as the available mRNA vaccines, i.e. those from Biontech / Pfizer or Moderna. Due to the positive data situation, the Astrazeneca vaccine is now also recommended for people over the age of 65 without restriction in Germany. So there is absolutely no reason to prefer or refuse any of the vaccines.
Nevertheless, we know that there are still many critical voices.
After the European Medicines Agency (EMA) reaffirmed the safety of the vaccine on March 18, the doubts that recently arose with regard to a questionable accumulation of blood clots and embolisms have been dispelled. If you look at the comments on the vaccine from Astrazeneca that the renowned experts utter, it becomes clear: there is a unified view of things that clearly speak in favor of vaccination with this vaccine.
What facts are these assessments based on?
In the cohort of vaccinated people, around 20 million people in Europe, the incidence of the dreaded thromboses and embolisms is even lower than in the general population. In the case of a special sub-form of these events, cerebral vein thrombosis, no increased incidence could be confirmed in vaccinated persons either. At the time the vaccination was stopped, seven cases were reported – in, as I said, 20 million people who had been vaccinated. The probability of suffering a thrombosis or embolism as part of a Covid disease, on the other hand, is many times higher. In seriously ill Covid patients, it is over 30 percent, depending on the study. So there is really no reason to continue suspending vaccination programs now.
In this context, colleagues of yours point out, among other things, the important difference between “side effects” and “vaccination reactions”.
This distinction is very important, especially in the current debate: If so-called “side effects” are reported, it is often simply a matter of completely normal vaccination reactions. You have to know: Every vaccination activates the immune system to react. That’s the point. Because you want the human body to produce antibodies. And of course this process does something to the body. And everyone feels that more or less, younger people more than older people. The fact is: It is completely normal that you do not feel well for a short time when the body is animated to “work” and “fight” in this way. You don’t have to worry about that. This is a desired vaccination reaction that you can sit out in peace.
Nevertheless, there are still enough concerns on the part of the population: And in general, vaccination is progressing rather slowly in Germany at the moment.
I watch this development with concern. Any vaccine dose that cannot be vaccinated poses a potential risk for those who have not previously been immunized. This means that millions of people in particular run the risk of getting sick, having to suffer severe long-term effects or even dying of Covid-19. Anyone who is not currently vaccinated can infect other people and is potentially dead themselves. The mortality figures are currently 1-2 percent across the age groups.
As an expert, how do you basically classify the current corona situation?
We need to get vaccinated as soon as possible. We are at the beginning of the third wave, which will be difficult to control even with restrictive lockdown measures. Against this we have to vaccinate and achieve the goal of extensive herd immunity in early autumn. If we get into a fourth winter wave again, it will be catastrophic.
Now that we are doing this interview, ICUs are calling for an immediate lockdown. How confident are you at the moment in view of the increasing incidence in large parts of Germany?
I attribute the numbers that are currently rising again to the fact that the contact restrictions are no longer particularly effective. In addition, there is an increased risk of infection from the well-known new variants such as B.1.1.7. That this will prevail is not surprising, however, as science had been expecting for a long time. However, there seems to be a slightly higher infectivity than the original variant. If further easing takes place now, the number of corona cases will increase significantly again.
In addition to your work as a scientist, you are also a practicing doctor. Would you say that the willingness to vaccinate in Germany is at a level that can be worked with?
In order for the pandemic to be contained, we have to be able to vaccinate at least two thirds of the population, or even better 75 percent. At the moment, based on current figures, it can be assumed that only 50 to 60 percent want to be vaccinated. This proportion often also depends on the current media coverage. The fact is: there are not enough people. We need a greater willingness to vaccinate!
How can this vaccination readiness be achieved?
Among those who currently do not want to be vaccinated are mainly people who are not generally opposed to vaccinations, but who are simply unsettled or are afraid that the vaccine will also cause something negative.
How can you address these concerns as a doctor and scientist?
You have to clarify even better and explain facts such as the current Astrazeneca well and in detail. Transparency is important and that people feel that their fears are being taken seriously.
What is your experience in the clinic? Can you convince insecure people?
Yes absolutely. If you present the data as it is and explain it, then patients and employees alike are grateful. Precisely because scientific data are often difficult to understand. I’ve been explaining a lot about how a clinical trial or vaccination study works lately. You can create a lot of trust with it. And this trust is something that we urgently need right now.
Your expert for infectious diseases:
Professor Dr. med. Susanne Herold
Head of Infectious Diseases Department / Professorship for Infectious Diseases of the Lungs, Medical Clinic II for Pneumology, Infectious Diseases, Intensive Care Medicine, Nephrology & Gastroenterology Team
University Hospital Giessen and Marburg (UKGM) at the Giessen location
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