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How safe is the AstraZeneca vaccine? Safer than these everyday activities

Worried about the AstraZeneca vaccine? These everyday activities are more dangerous, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
Nadhim Zahawi, the minister in charge of vaccine development, is given his vaccination in Lewisham . Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

More than 20 million people in the UK have received a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19, trumpeted by Boris Johnson’s Conservative government as being among the best vaccine rollout programs in the world.

Developed at Oxford University, it was the first fully trialled and tested vaccine to be administered publicly anywhere in the world and has been ruled safe by the World Health Organisation, the European medicines regulator and the UK regulator.

There have, however, been some very rare cases of blood clots reported by people who have received the vaccine. Blood clots are also a rare symptom of Covid-19, but nonetheless people under 30 in the UK will be offered an alternative.

Either way, the benefits of vaccinations for outweigh the risks, said Professor David Spiegelhalter, chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is something that perhaps should have been emphasised all the time for younger people, who can get long Covid, and it would prevent the huge numbers of that as well, but being vaccinated is as much a contribution to the community and their relatives and the people around them. Preventing transmission has this direct benefit for themselves.”

So far, 79 people in the UK have reported these “extremely rare” blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, including 19 deaths. If the link between the blood clots and the vaccine is proven, this puts the chances of developing blood clots at approximately four in one million and the chances of dying at under one in a million.

So where does this stand in terms of risk? Well, there are a lot of other day-to-day activities which, statistically speaking, have a far higher rate of death than the minuscule risks which may be linked with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Taking the main medical causes of death out of the equation — such as cancer, liver disease, heart disease, and diabetes — these are the ways you are (statistically) more likely to die than if you take the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Having too much to drink

Pubs gardens are due to open in England from April 12, so the favoured British pastime of having one too many can resume in time for the summer. Social distancing must still be followed, of course, but there were 392 deaths classed as “accidental poisoning by and exposure to alcohol” in England and Wales in 2019, according to ONS data. That’s 6.6 deaths for every million.

Driving a car

Perhaps unsurprisingly, transport accidents feature fairly highly in the accidental death records. There were 387 deaths among car occupants injured in a transport accident in England and Wales in 2019, or roughly 6.5 per million. Far higher than the risk associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Walking down the street

You are more than four times more likely to die as a pedestrian involved in a transport accident, according to the official data. Some 236 people suffered this fate in England and Wales in 2019, or four in a million.

Riding a motorbike

Many motorcyclists are known as thrill seekers and, when you look at the mortality rate, it’s little wonder why. Motorcycle riders in a transport accident accounted for 185 deaths in England and Wales in 2019, or 3.1 in a million.

Going swimming

There were 174 deaths by accidental drowning or submersion in England and Wales in 2019, according to data from the Office of National Statistics, or roughly 2.9 per million.

Getting out of bed

More than 6,200 poor souls perished after a fall in 2019, or 93 in a million, and 127 of those cases came from someone falling out of bed. At 2.1 incidents in a million, it is a more likely cause of death than receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.