Lauren Briggs is alive and well now. But when she woke up on the morning of April 4, she “honestly thought I was going to die.”
Lauren is one of the survivors of the widely reported but rare blood clotting associated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in the U.K. In an interview with Global News, she said she was in “so much pain” that she texted her family saying, “I don’t know if I’m going to wake up.”
“I’ve got a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. And to be told that I had blood clots in my lungs, which is deadly? It was scary, and I did actually ask him (the doctor), am I going to die?”
The blood clots that Lauren survived, however, are considered “very rare” by The European Medicines Agency. The EMA has maintained that the benefits of using AstraZeneca‘s vaccine continue to outweigh any risks, as has Health Canada.
“Reports of blood clots with low platelets in people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are very rare,” PHAC told Global News in a statement.
“Based on all of the evidence available internationally to-date, Health Canada continues to consider that the benefits of the AstraZeneca and Covishield vaccines to protect against COVID-19 outweigh the potential risks.”
Yet for Lauren, it all started 10 days after getting the vaccine, when she woke up breathless, with high fever and a “horrendous headache,” which then led her to believe that she might have contracted the coronavirus. However, upon getting tested, her reports came up negative, although her symptoms persisted.
So far, though rare, there have been reports involving blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. But many countries, including Canada, have okayed its continued usage, repeatedly maintaining that the vaccines are still safe.
Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, has also said that while they are aware of the reports, the agency has no plans to change its recommendations, but has updated warnings on the vaccine’s label “so that Canadians can be informed of the side effects.”
The reports involve extremely rare clotting, including a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), that were seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets, called thrombocytopenia.
According to medical experts, the vaccine seems to trigger antibodies directed against platelets, the sticky blood cells forming clots.
“These clots tend to occur in unusual areas, like the brain or the gut, and they also tend to be quite aggressive,” Dr. Menaka Pai, Hamilton hematologist and thrombosis medicine physician, told Global News.
“So these antibodies attack the person’s platelets… They switch them on and they cause blood clotting,” said Pai.
However, Lauren was not aware of her exact situation until her boyfriend sent her a screenshot of a news report concerning blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine.
As of April 4, 34 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses have been administered in Britain and the European Economic Area over the past three months. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said its vaccine side effects monitoring system had received 169 reports of cases of CVST, or clots in blood vessels exiting the brain, and 53 cases of splanchnic vein thrombosis (SVT), or clotting in veins in the abdomen.
The EMA’s safety committee carried out a review of 62 cases of CVST, and 24 cases of SVT, of which 18 were fatal.
Most cases occurred within two weeks of the person receiving their first dose, and most of the cases reported in Europe have occurred in women under 60, like Lauren.
Though the European Medicines Agency ruled last week that it found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and a blood clotting disorder, they have maintained that the instances have been extremely rare.
Several experts have also said that the risks of clotting are higher from common medications, such as birth control and hormone replacement therapy, during pregnancy, from long trips and due to smoking, rather then the COVID-19 vaccines themselves.
“Blood clots are more common with just day-to-day living than they are with any of the vaccines, including the AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson,” Linda Dresser, an infectious diseases expert and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, told Global News.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the likelihood of developing a blood clot for birth control users is three to nine women out of 10,000, every year.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on the other hand, holds that pregnant women are five times more prone to experience a blood clot when compared to women who are not pregnant.
According to Ben Chan, assistant professor of global health at the University of Toronto, the likelihood of getting blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine are “equivalent to the risk of being hit by a car and dying in Toronto in a given year.”
“Yes, these are risks, we should be aware of them, but we need to put them into perspective compared to the daily risks that we have in our lives around us,” he told Global News in an interview.
–With files from Global News’ Dawna Friesen and Saba Aziz