Reports of rare Covid vaccine side effects don’t mean shots are ‘unsafe, ineffective’

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A Telegram post by an Australian anti-vaccine campaigner falsely claims that a decision by government advisers not to recommend a fourth Covid-19 vaccine for those under 30 is proof that shots ‘have never been safe’ or effective”. Scientists say the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks, but healthy youngsters who had already received three doses were not currently advised to be given an extra shot, given their low chance of getting seriously ill with Covid-19 and a rare risk of jab-related heart inflammation.

“They finally admit that beatings cause heart complications and will no longer recommend injections to ‘young people’,” reads a telegram post from November 15.

The term “whacks” appears to refer to Covid-19 vaccines. Anti-vaccine groups on social media commonly use code words or even emojis refer to jabs to evade automated moderation tools.

“These things have NEVER been safe or effective and the people who pushed them knew it full well,” adds the message from David Oneeglioa prominent Australian anti-vaccine campaigner with over 68,000 Telegram followers.

Oneeglio has made a series of misrepresentations about vaccines, including that Australian authorities are forcing farmers to inject cattle with mRNA shots and that political parties are planning to make vaccination compulsory.

The Telegram post shows an excerpt from an Australia 9 News broadcast, which reports that the government’s Australian Immunization Technical Advisory Group (ATAGI) is not recommending a fourth Covid-19 vaccine for those under 30 in healthy.

The presenter said: “The country’s top vaccine adviser says those under 30 are unlikely to be approved for a fourth Covid vaccine.”

“ATAGI says that the increased risks of myocarditis mean the current vaccination schedule for young people will likely remain as is. Attention is turning to antivirals to deal with the new Omicron wave.”

Myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle — and pericarditis — inflammation of the tissues surrounding the heart — are rare side effects Covid-19 vaccines, but most cases are mild and patients recover quickly.

Screenshot of the misleading post, captured November 18, 2022

Oneeglio’s post gained traction – and was shared on Facebook here, here and here – as Australia’s Chief Medical Officer urged people to keep up to date with booster shots as the country has seen a spike in Covid-19 infections.

A representative from Australia’s health department – which ATAGI advises – said the decision not to recommend a fourth Covid-19 vaccine for healthy under-30s did not mean the shots were unsafe or ineffective.

“ATAGI emphasizes that the overwhelming the benefits of vaccination in protecting against COVID-19 far outweigh the rare risk of myocarditis and/or pericarditis,” the spokesperson told AFP on November 16.

At this point, only a third dose is recommended for Australians aged 16-29 and those aged 5-15 who have additional risk factors.”

ATAGI said in July that he only recommended a fourth dose of Covid-19 – which he called a “winter booster dose” – for the elderly or people with a medical condition that increases the risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19.

“At this time, ATAGI does not support making the winter booster dose available to healthy adults under the age of 30, as it is unclear whether the benefits outweigh the risks in this population,” he said.

“Although very rare, myocarditis associated with mRNA vaccines can occur, particularly in adolescent and young adult males.”

“Extremely safe” vaccines

Nathan Bartlettassociate professor at Newcastle University, Australian School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, said ATAGI seems to have decided there was currently a “minimal gain” in giving a fourth Covid-19 vaccine to healthy under-30s.

“Vaccines are extremely safe, but like almost all drugs, mRNA vaccines against COVID carry some risk of adverse effects,” he told AFP on November 21.

“For COVID vaccines, there is a very low risk of heart inflammation (myocarditis) which appears to be somewhat higher in younger people (than 30), particularly males. This adverse event is transient and manageable, but does not prevent must be weighed against the benefits of the vaccine.”

Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said it had received 822 reports that were “probably myocarditis” of approximately 49.7 million doses of Covid-19 mRNA vaccines administered in the country, as of November 13.

“Myocarditis is often mild and cases usually resolve after a few days of treatment and rest,” the TGA said, while acknowledging that serious cases have been reported in Australia and overseas.

Kristin Godarda research director at the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center in California said rare cases of myocarditis should not deter people from getting vaccinated.

“Covid-19 vaccines are a safe and effective way to significantly reduce the risk of a young person ending up in hospital with Covid-19 disease, or passing it on to someone more vulnerable,” she told AFP on November 18.

“Myocarditis and pericarditis after vaccination remain unlikely for the most part, and it is reassuring that when episodes do occur, they tend to be mild, short-lived and with full recovery.”

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