Roger Ratcliffe offers only
faint praise for vax
side-effect information

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My vote for the defining image of 2021 goes to the hypodermic syringe. It’s loomed over all of our lives this year, embraced by grateful recipients of Covid-19 jabs like me but also rejected by not-on-your-nelly anti-vaxxers.

After the socially distanced and worryingly dystopian nightmare that life had become since March 2020, I can tell you I didn’t hesitate to go online and book a jab as early as I could. However, despite my second dose of AstraZeneca being administered by the May bank holiday weekend I continued to
wear face masks to the shops and avoid crowds.

My admiration for the pharmaceutical industry and those responsible for the NHS rollout was pretty high until a couple of weeks ago, when I got the booster – this time a shot of the Pfizer vaccine. The accompanying leaflet that was handed to me after I had rolled my sleeve back down warned me that I should talk to my doctor (fine chance) or nurse if ever I had suffered a variety of ailments, or “had ever fainted following any needle injection”. It was a bit late for me to say: “Hang on a minute, I fainted when given a yellow fever injection 30 years ago”.

Whether my flop signalled some underlying issue that made me unsuitable for the jab I can’t say since the leaflet offered no explanation. What did happen though was that I experienced several of the side-effects listed on the leaflet, including tiredness, nausea and vomiting, all of which were said to be common reactions to the Pfizer vaccine. Given that I’m not normally prone to sickness – my last bout was in the mid-1990s, an experience I remember only too well and resulted from eating dodgy shellfish – I’m in no doubt that this time round the booster was the culprit.

That the leaflet was given to me post-vax highlights just how poor the provision of information has been with many aspects of the pandemic. Mask or not-to-mask? AstraZeneca, Moderna or Pfizer? Holiday at home or abroad? There have been very few facts on offer to help us make potentially life-saving decisions. And the leaflet I was given is a particularly bad offender, comprising four A4 sides of small print and inexcusably doubling as storage advice for the medical practice charged with administering the vaccine.

There was nothing there to explain, for example, why it was felt necessary to give me a different vaccine from the two AstraZeneca jabs I received earlier in the year, and I had to hunt through a lot of dense text to find a web link for the Coronavirus Yellow Card reporting site so that I could report my side-effects.

If it is true that these jabs are going to be a feature of life for years to come then, pre-vaccination, there has to be far better communication about who the at-risk groups are well before we roll up our sleeves. Otherwise the anti-vaxxers will continue to undermine the validity of the operation. Wacky conspiracy theories continue to proliferate, alleging that the jabs alter our DNA or implant tiny microchips in our bodies, so it’s essential to give us as much information as possible in a clear way that can be understood by everyone.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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