COVID-19 has become a largely preventable cause of death.
But very sadly, we are seeing an ever-increasing surge in this number of preventable COVID-19 deaths in Australia. And as we start to open up, our health system will become severely stressed – something we have already seen in other countries.
I work part time in an Emergency Departments and we are already seeing many COVID-19 presentations. Most wouldn’t have required a visit to Emergency had they chosen vaccination. A recent patient made the consequences of vaccine choice all too real.
He was a middle-aged man who came into Emergency being unable to breath. The oxygen level in his blood (arterial blood gas) was critically low. He was gasping for air, but his damaged lungs couldn’t deliver enough oxygen.
Before he was intubated and put on an artificial lung his last words were – “Don’t immunise me”. A sad and troubling response given that if he had followed medical advice and been immunised there’s an 85 to 90 per cent chance he wouldn’t now be intubated.
Of course, it was way too late for him to be immunised anyway. He already had severe COVID-19.
For whatever reason – perhaps the fear of vaccine side effects – he had decided to take his chances by facing COVID without a vaccine.
Of course, we know that vaccines have side effects, even if exceedingly small. And sure enough, in the same shift, I saw a young man who presented with pericarditis – likely from the Pfizer vaccine.
He had some significant chest pain. It was minor. He also felt ‘run-over-by-a-bus’ and had some local redness at the injection site – both are common but non-serious and transient side effects. But a few hours later after some routine tests, I sent him home with some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and a follow up with a GP for monitoring of his pericarditis.
No one has died from the Pfizer vaccine in Australia and most cases of pericarditis are managed at home.
As he walked out the door, I thanked him for accepting the small risk of vaccines to protect himself, our society, our health system and my colleagues.
The stark contrast of the different exit from Emergency wasn’t lost on me. One went to intensive care (ICU) to fight for his life – alone. The other went home to family.
I know which door I would want to exit Emergency from.
With thousands of daily cases we are now coming face-to-face with the very real consequences of our vaccine choices. It’s no longer an academic debate – the wrong choice can be a fatal choice.
Of course, it’s your choice, but your choice will have very real knock-on effects beyond your own loved ones and to the loved ones of others. For example, preventable hospital admissions stress the heath system and impact the treatment of other conditions.
I have a friend whose access to a life-saving bone marrow transplant may well be affected by clogged ICUs.
Meanwhile, we’ve had nine people die from the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia this year. As tragic as that is, a similar number of unvaccinated Australians are dying from COVID-19 each day.
Last year, with no vaccine, deaths like this were difficult to prevent. But now we have highly effective vaccines that have been shown – again and again – to decrease your risk of death from COVID-19 by 85% to 95%.
We need look no further than our recent hospitalisation data – four per cent of hospitalised COVID-19 patients were fully vaccinated, 96% weren’t.
Perhaps we need to address the concern that hundreds of people have died after being vaccinated. Indeed they have, but not as a result of the vaccination.
Every day, on average, 440 people die from all sorts of causes in Australia. And currently, we are immunising 211,000 each day. Given the large numbers of vaccines being administered, by chance some of these 440 people will also have had a vaccine recently.
And some will have eaten sushi.
We need investigate to conclude whether they died from a vaccine, sushi or something else. Accordingly, every death after a vaccination is carefully investigated to determine if the vaccine caused death. And it did in nine cases.
Even more reassuringly, the all-cause mortality among those who are vaccinated has remained lower than all-cause mortality among the unvaccinated.
Basically, association doesn’t prove causation. Claiming these deaths are a result of a COVID-19 vaccine is like claiming vaccines result in parking tickets because I received a parking ticket the same week as I was vaccinated last week.
But I doubt the overall rate of parking tickets differs between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
There is no escaping the life-saving truth that vaccines are safe and work.
Most COVID-19 deaths are preventable. And deaths and serious adverse events as a result of vaccines are exceedingly rare.
So please make a fully informed decision based on credible evidence. It’s too late to decide in an ambulance on the way to Emergency.
Professor Nathan Grills is a public health physician and NHMRC Post Doctoral Fellow with Nossal Institute for Global Health, at the University of Melbourne; he is also Senior Research Advisor with the Australia India Institute.
The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.