Blood clots, vaccines and the contraceptive pill

Blood clots, vaccines and the contraceptive pill

The serious complications that can arise from the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine (including life-threatening clotting) has resulted in the government advising people under the age of fifty years not to take it and to instead take a different strain.

The risk of clotting from the AstraZeneca vaccine is four to six people in every one million. However, a drug that nearly three-quarters of women of childbearing age in Australia take every day, the contraceptive pill, has a far greater risk of clotting; somewhere between 5 and 12 women per 10,000, or about 500-1200 cases per million.

The risk of clotting associated with the contraceptive pill has been known since the 1960s, and yet despite this, women are still prescribed the drug, and continue to take it in very large numbers in this country every day.

This raises questions about why there isn’t the same level of alarm and urgency surrounding its safety?

An opinion piece by Gabriela Fowler in the Sydney Morning Herald has raised these same questions:

“If the threat of blood clots is enough to halt the implementation of a life-saving vaccine, why has it not been enough to find a better alternative to the contraceptive pill? Especially when the risk of clots is so much greater for those taking the pill? 

The liberal prescription of the hormonal contraceptive pill deserves the same level of scrutiny as the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine. … sixty years since the negative side effects of the pill were first reported, it’s time we found a better alternative.”

Whilst the clots caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine are significantly more dangerous in terms of risk of death and ongoing disability than those caused by the pill, Fowler argues that “the level of urgent government scrutiny and response directed at the safety of the vaccine has never been matched regarding a medication that is taken every day by women across Australia.”

It is significant to note that a recent clinical trial for an injectable hormonal contraceptive for men, which was found to be 96 percent effective, was discontinued because “the risks to study participants outweighed the potential benefits.” These side effects included “mood changes depression, pain at the injection site, increased libido.”

Yet despite studies that demonstrate the many negative side-effects of hormonal contraception for women, it continues to be manufactured and marketed to them. As an example, a recent study of one million women in Denmark found an increased risk of first use of antidepressants and first diagnoses of depression among women who used hormonal contraception with the highest rate occurring in teenage girls.

The double standards are incredibly disappointing.

The response to the vaccine roll out and concerns about the safety of pharmaceuticals from a public policy perspective provides a welcome opportunity for a similar focus on the health and safety of many other drugs being provided to the public. Women shouldn’t accept substandard and risky medication just because that’s all there is on offer.

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

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