Heber Rowan: An Abundance Of Caution And A Scarcity Of Common Sense

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From top: Nurse Joan Love with the AstraZeneca jab at the HSE Vaccination Centre in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin; Heber Rowan

There are several vaccines being used to combat the COVID 19 pandemic. Their names will be fixed in our minds for years to come, like family houses in Game of Thronesm as they fight for control of the COVID virus.

This week the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was ‘paused’ in the USA and there has been concern raised about the AstraZeneca vaccine being harmful to roughly one in a million people from blood cloths. One in a million is a risk that generally, for most other medicines, is
determined as a reasonable one, because you have to weigh up the benefits. Ultimately asking, what serves more people than does harm?

Often cited at the moment is the higher risk of blood clots from birth control medication, people decide that it’s worth more to bear that risk than not have the use of it. The same goes for the vaccines. That said, the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) knew that in pausing the roll out of the AstraZeneca vaccine they would assuage the fears of those with concerns about such side effects. However as we consider the speed of the roll out program and the continued damage with the lockdowns: was that worth it?

People make decisions based on weighing up of risks. We have in society, a way of keeping to our risk equilibrium. The normal level of risk you accept in your day to day life.

As an example, it’s been found that if you drive without a seatbelt, statistically you will drive slower. If you know that seatbelts will reduce harm you might drive a little faster, because you work towards your risk equilibrium. You feel a sense of what’s the risk you can take and what you can’t. It’s different for many folks, Formula 1 drivers certainly have a different sense of what type of risk is OK for them and what’s not than you or I.

The issue is how risk is felt.

Simply knowing the factors that cause risk or danger is based on our exposure to awareness of that danger. If you wear a seatbelt you will find it more straightforward to figure out what the risk is of not wearing it actually is. That’s different to a new type of medicine made in extraordinary circumstances with cutting edge science. You have to rely on the trusted sources of information or experts to determine if taking them is a risk worth having.

And that is why in my opinion, the fear associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is over the top. People are concerned that they might be the one in a million case that receives, a potentially lethal side effects. The media has grabbed on to a story that has interest and “legs to run on”. People want to know more about it.

The science is there. The risk is there too but it’s a remote one. Significantly less so than NOT taking it.

Attempting to reconcile why there is such a concern goes further though. It can be argued that the fallout from the much discredited link between autism and vaccines by Andrew Wakefield is a cause. People fear that they will be the unlucky ones because they hear more about the negative stories than they do about the humdrum stories of lives changed and improved by vaccines. It’s not perfect but it works.

People in fear will share their stories and others will share those stories because we find it easier to understand a story than scientific data. That’s why in conversations we will often talk about the lives of others than ideas or facts. People have stories and we are attuned to find them interesting because it’s easier to relate to.

An over abundance of caution.

Now I think we’re moving forward with an abundance of caution. Too much. This is not good because when it comes to dealing with working to speed, working as fast as possible to get a removal of the social distancing restrictions in society. It slows that down. Lives will be lost and damaged from the societal harms of seemingly never-ending lockdowns.

You have to be efficient and effective to make sure that treatment strategies work, knowing while it will not work for everyone, it will get things done where it counts. Reducing harm and saving lives.

Much of the debate about vaccines is also influenced by the humility that scientists working in their fields generally have. They know that they can often be wrong, that new evidence can end decades of a working hypothesis in an instant. So this is where we are at. A medicine held back because of too much caution.

As we can see with Israel’s relative end of COVID cases, life going back to a relative normal there. That matters and vaccines matter.

The lack of common sense

This week there has been a partial reopening of Ireland with schools back to relative normality and construction work picking up where it left off months ago.

This is welcome though with a look at recent debates on the Claire Bryne live show and on the radio, you’d wonder at the adage that “common sense isn’t common”.

Sam McConkey said recently that the restrictions could go on for 3-5 years. Crazy stuff in my opinion to even conceive of that.

Small businesses up and down Ireland are crying out for a return to normality and the idea of years of further restrictions is unconscionable. Click and collect services for instance are currently banned and while some pubs sell take away drinks, they are unable to allow patrons to use their bathrooms. Surely if it is deemed safe enough to sell take away drinks, it would be safe enough to allow for the use of bathrooms?

On Monday’s edition of Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ One the issue of Portaloos was discussed as a possible solution as we enter the warmer summer months. The matter of increased costs running such outdoor facilities was brushed over with no substantial analysis of current policy when it has been found that only 0.1% of cases are transmitted outdoors.

The brush with significant danger has passed by with the vaccine roll out assisting those most at risk. It’s time for a dose of common sense and less fear of making mistakes.

Let’s end the lockdown.

Heber Rowan is a Sligo native with a passion for politics. He works in public affairs and enjoys listening to and narrating audiobooks. He can be found on Twitter and occasionally blogs on Medium.com.


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26 thoughts on “Heber Rowan: An Abundance Of Caution And A Scarcity Of Common Sense

  1. Broadbag

    ”Surely if it is deemed safe enough to sell take away drinks, it would be safe enough to allow for the use of bathrooms?”

    Well…picking up a pint and tapping your card isn’t in the same hygiene risk as using a communal toilet is it? No, no it’s not.

    1. K. Cavan

      It is pretty much the same risk in terms of being exposed to a Coronavirus. Pretty much no risk, in both cases. Surfaces are the main vector.

  2. Charger Salmons

    Chalk it down Heber brother.
    Ireland has been following the lead of the EU throughout all of this while ignoring the real-time scientific experiment going on next door which has seen 41 million people jabbed in Europe’s most successful vaccination programme.
    Pathetically Ireland is celebrating its leader being called out of a cabinet meeting to receive news of its allocation of extra vaccines and then rushing back in to tell colleagues like a schoolboy given a star by his teacher.
    I mean really, is that how you want to run a country – waiting for the munificence of others instead of doing the hard work of looking after your citizens yourself.
    The really funny bit is fighting tooth and nail to give American pharmaceuticals huge tax breaks so they pay as little as possible in Ireland but not being able to call in a favour for doing it.
    And the EU and Sleepy Joe are going to end that wheeze soon anyway.
    They really are laughing at the EU’s 33rd Team …

      1. Micko

        Ah – The deaths per million game

        Belgium: 2030

        To say it again: Stop comparing countries – too many variables man.

        No one can say why one country has done better or worse than others.

        And, if you really want to play that game

        Sweden: 1356 – Below the EU i see – what a shocker!

        1. Oro

          There are variables sure – and they should be acknowledged – but don’t pretend that the rate of deaths per population group is not one of the most salient statistics available.

          As you say re Sweden, it is important to look at the rate compared to Europe and then to its most similar models (its neighbours) and then the mess they’re in is revealed. Similarly one could look at the difference between the rates of Ireland and UK as a good way to compare, and draw conclusions from it.

          Obviously there are reasons why some countries have worse rates than others and it requires complex analysis of myriad categories but to pretend like it’s a redundant exercise just because it’s complicated is just desperately stupid. But then I remember who said it ;)

      2. Charger Salmons

        Among epidemiologists excess mortality is considered a more comprehensive measure of the total impact of the pandemic on deaths than the confirmed COVID-19 death count alone.
        It captures not only the confirmed deaths, but also COVID-19 deaths that were not correctly diagnosed and reported as well as deaths from other causes that are attributable to the overall crisis conditions.
        The UK is mid-table, around 21st of all the mainly first-world countries that keep sufficient records to be able to chart this.
        Perhaps unsurprisingly Ireland doesn’t keep those records.


  3. Gavin

    “People are concerned that they might be the one in a million case that receives, potentially lethal side effects.” That’s not the sole reason people are wary of it, people don’t trust politicians and large pharma companies, with good reason

  4. Charger Salmons

    From this afternoon’s Telegraph.

    The risk of a rare brain clot from coronavirus is approximately eight times greater the risk presented by the AstraZeneca jab, a University of Oxford study has found.

    The research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, and compared blood clot rates among 500,000 coronavirus patients with data from the roll-out of 34 million vaccine doses across Europe.

    The incidence of rates for cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) – a rare blood clot on the brain – is 39 per million coronavirus patients, while it is five per million recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

    “Although the magnitude of the risk cannot be quantified with confidence, the risk after Covid-19 is approximately 8-10 times that reported for the vaccines,” the study says.

    “In summary, Covid-19 is associated with a markedly increased incidence of CVT compared to the general population, patients with influenza, and people who have received BNT162b2 or mRNA-1273 vaccines.”

    “There’s no doubt that Covid is a much greater risk of this [condition] than any of the vaccines,” said Professor Paul Harrison, a co-author of the study.

    1. GiggidyGoo

      ‘The research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed’
      ‘Although the magnitude of the risk cannot be quantified with confidence’

      So Astra Zenica which cannot quantify in confidence, and with no peer reviews, nevertheless write definitively
      ‘”The risk of a rare brain clot from coronavirus is approximately eight times greater the risk presented by the AstraZeneca jab, a University of Oxford study has found.”

      What a waste of column inches.

    2. f_lawless

      Word is it’s junk science.

      “The research…compared blood clot rates among 500,000 coronavirus patients with data from the roll-out of 34 million vaccine doses across Europe.”

      Clearly, the number of people hospitalised due to Covid is a small fraction of those who test positive for Covid. And those who test positive for Covid are a small fraction of those who contract Covid and never get tested at all. Their calculation for the incidence of CVST in those who get Covid is a gross overestimation.

      1. Charger Salmons

        Mmm, difficult one.
        Who to believe – a research team at a world-renowned university who’ve spent weeks analysing mountains of data.
        Or a feller off the internet who reckons it’s junk science because that’s what the word is.
        Decisions,decisions …

        1. Papi

          Or a troll who jumps from one opinion to another way, way, way more than his mammy changes his underpants.

  5. Charger Salmons

    From the NHS today.
    The latest take-up figures for vaccination for 50+ by region

    East of England. 96%
    London. 86.7%
    Midlands. 95.5%
    NE&Yorks. 95.7%
    North West. 94.9%
    South East. 96%
    South West. 96.9%

    England. 94.8%

    While all across Europe people are shunning vaccines Blighty is trusting the scientists to an extraordinary degree.
    And this is entirely due to the positive messaging about jabs right across the political spectrum.
    My pals on the mainland simply don’t believe how negligent politicians across Europe have been over dissing the AZ vaccine – leading to inevitable negativity about other vaccines.
    Loose lips cost lives.
    Are you listening Napoleon ?

    ( Frau Merkel announces she is getting the AZ vaccine tomorrow – if only she’d been so positive earlier. )

          1. Charger Salmons

            You asked Nappy and you shall receive …

            Charger Jab Jibber-Jabber™

            As Mehole dancing a little jig and whooped for joy in front of his cabinet colleagues after Head Office told him Ireland will receive an extra 545,000 vaccines over the next three months the UK cranked out 461,618 jabs in one day alone yesterday.

            The overall total is just shy of 41 million.
            That’s twice as many as Germany and 41 TIMES more than Ireland has delivered including lots of lucky Irish people who live there.
            In fairness.


          2. ce

            Charger’s stats are coming think and fast. In fairness he’s a little nervous that France will take over the UK’s coveted No.1 for deaths in Europe spot and so he’s just trying to confuse and distract us all with other figures…

  6. K. Cavan

    You seem to be assuming a binary choice between experimental jabs & experimental Lockdowns. Subjecting even a single human being to “Cutting Edge” medical science is unethical, exposing every single human on the planet to it is utterly inconceivable, total madness. mRNA vectors are indeed Cutting Edge, new, untried technology, with effects & efficacy as yet unknown. State of The Art technology, tried, trusted & proven, is an absolute requirement for anything to play a part in Public Health, especially for a disease with minimal risk of mortality in healthy individuals. Every Coronavirus was once Novel but none produced any noticeable mortality during waves of infection throughout the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s, with no Lockdowns or Vaccines & the assumption that Sars02 was different was driven by Big Pharma, hoping for another enormous payday from the most profitable line they flog. In the future, it’s likely that mRNA will play a part in human medicine, it’s direct effect on the Ribosome is a powerful tool that carries great hope & enormous risk, indeed it’s the basis of all viral disease but the decision to employ it for a Common Cold virus was driven by hysterical media propaganda & multiple agendas unrelated to Public Health, not a balanced, scientific appraisal, not the facts. The lack of trusted sources has been a feature of this pandemic, Big Pharma are financing the organizations who are supposed to be the gatekeepers, Public Health is thoroughly corrupted. You quote some figures for vaccine deaths but completely ignore the other axis, Time, rendering your figures meaningless. These jabs have instantly killed many healthy people, something Sars02 failed to do & we will not know their full cost for some time. It’s also almost inevitable that Lockdowns will kill a multiple of those who died from Covid-19. Finally, to equate resistance to mRNA Sars02 vaccines to general Anti-Vax sentiment just exposes your lack of knowledge about the vast, vast differences between previous vaccines & current mRNA technologies. I would advise anyone reading this to take on board that you are recommending vaccines that you are entirely ignorant about, while dangling escape from an imposed Lockdown as a carrot. Neither Lockdowns nor Vaccines are legitimate, proven, tested approaches to a Coronavirus.

  7. Charger Salmons

    So much guff in a single post.
    I’ll pick just one of a number of spurious claims and ask you to provide evidence to back it up.
    ” These jabs have instantly killed many healthy people ”
    Take your time Einstein.
    Shall we say this time tomorrow ?
    Or get off the pot.

    1. K. Cavan

      Right, you’re saying that death, within days of injection, has not occurred? Miscarriages & abnormal menses in women haven’t happened? All the reports of blood clots are just anti-vax fictions? You joker. Any more of my spurious claims you’d like to debate? Demanding “proof” is just childish rhetoric, not debate, by the way. I know what I’m talking about. Unlike you, I have a good grasp of basic virology & if I don’t know an answer off the top of my head, I can check my lecture notes. C’mon, let’s be havin’ you, spoofer…


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