Alison O'Connor: Vaccine lottery - Rescheduling to get a different jab is now popular

How complacent we have become though in so short a time that we now feel entitled to pick and choose what vaccine we want to receive, writes Alison O'Connor
Alison O'Connor: Vaccine lottery - Rescheduling to get a different jab is now popular

Public Health Nurse Deirdre Murphy with a vial of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccination at the mass vaccination centre in the Helix, DCU, Dublin. File Picture: PA

She wasn’t intentionally smug. But it was there nonetheless. I could understand it, even if it grated slightly. My friend, a few years older than me, had gone for the jab last Saturday and the needle that entered her arm was filled with the Pfizer vaccine.

She was in and out in under a half an hour, saying the logistical operation at the Aviva in Dublin was highly impressive with thousands easily making their way through. 

The atmosphere was great, she reported, and the chatter in the queue – you guessed it – was how incredibly lucky they all were to be getting Pfizer.

I had actually thought that those around my age (51) would have little chance of getting Pfizer or Moderna so had resigned myself that I’d probably be offered AstraZeneca (AZ). 

But did my mindset shift after hearing of my friend’s luck at vaccine roulette? Hell yes it did. Vaccine envy all the way.

Early this week a second friend in her early 50s got a text inviting her on Thursday to the same venue for an AZ shot. After much deliberating, she asked to be rescheduled. A third friend got offered Janssen. She did the same. 

They both decided to try their luck on the Pfizer lottery. Contrary to some impressions given about a lengthy wait when they contacted the HSE they were told they would likely be rescheduled in a week or two.

So added to the general anxiety of my own wait for the HSE text this week, was the additional layer of wondering which it would be – Pfizer, Moderna, AZ or Janssen? 

If I had my choice from the vaccine smorgasboard top of list would be Pfizer, followed closely by Moderna, then Janssen (although I simply didn’t expect to be offered that) and lastly AZ. I was keeping a close eye on my phone.

Let’s face it AZ has a toxic reputation in every way whether it be safety, politics, supply or ability to fill contracts. 

Pfizer and Moderna are both the new type of mRNA vaccine that teach cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. The AZ and Janssen are viral vector vaccines which have been studied since the 1970s and used more recently to respond to the Ebola outbreaks.

The much-awaited text came as I stood in the middle of a shopping centre, already feeling overstimulated from the opportunity to go into shops and being surrounded by people. It told me that I’m scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday. The vaccine I’ve been offered, is Janssen.

I felt elated when I read the text. When I saw it was Janssen my first thought was “hurrah” at the prospect that it was “one and done”. 

Just the single jab and no need for a second round. Well, not ‘til next winter anyway when we’ll probably all be getting top-ups and they will be Pfizer.

But needless to say, the little green vaccine monster of envy began to kick in a short while later. The temptation was there to reschedule and try my luck on the game of inoculation roulette. 

I heard of the experience of a married couple I know. The husband is being vaccinated around the same time and in the same place as me tomorrow with Janssen, while his slightly younger wife is going there on Monday and getting Pfizer. 

But I thought of yet another friend, over 60, who, when I asked her a few weeks ago how she felt about getting AZ immediately replied: “I’ll take it in both arms”. I’ve kept my Janssen appointment.

What is really missing for many of us in our vaccine musings is perspective. How long were we desperately hanging in there, hoping against hope that a vaccine would be developed against Covid. 

Remember how often we were told that the last effective vaccine developed was for the mumps and that took four years to develop; that if we managed to come up with a Covid jab that had over 50% efficacy we would be doing exceptionally well.

In the end, we got warp-speed delivery thanks to some truly amazing science with efficacy levels far above what we might have anticipated. How complacent we have become though in so short a time that we now feel entitled to pick and choose.

There have been well publicised blood clotting scares around AZ and similar, although less fraught, around Janssen. But the world does remain in the midst of a pandemic and any vaccine right now is a good one. A proper reading of the risks, minus the hype, points towards that.

Apparently, a majority of people are turning up for their appointments but there are some, like my friends, who are rescheduling and efforts are being made to facilitate those.

There is strong consideration being given currently within Government to reducing the interval between the two AZ jabs from 16 to 12 weeks to make it a more attractive proposition for people.

Elsewhere our 12 - 16-year-olds, will, in all likelihood, be getting vaccinated before they return to school in September. They’ve been offered in the US and Canada to children as young as 12. Other vaccines are being tested in this age group.

The funny thing is that those who reschedule right now do have a fairly high chance of getting an mRNA vaccine, most likely Pfizer. 

Boxes of the Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines. Pictures: PA Wire
Boxes of the Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines. Pictures: PA Wire

In May 730,000 doses of Pfizer were administered, around 180,000 AZ and just under 129,000 Moderna. 

In Q2 the lion share of supply will again be from Pfizer with 2.754 million expected, 789,000 AZ, 600,000 Janssen and just over 380,00 Moderna. The Food and Drug Administration in the US has an issue at with a plant there producing the Janssen jab so that figure may be reduced as a result.

But again when it comes to “choice” of shots, as well as the decision to vaccinate children, we would be well minded to think of the comments of Prof Andrew Pollard, who led the trials for AZ vaccine, this week. He said it would be “morally wrong” to vaccinate children while high-risk people in poorer countries remain unvaccinated.

It felt completely wrong, he said, to be in a situation morally where we are rolling out vaccines to younger and younger populations at “very, very low risk”. "Children have near to zero risk of severe disease or death."

Another pointed and necessary reminder to us adults that any vaccine that has been approved is a good vaccine that we should be very glad to receive. 

But to end on a more positive vaccine note there is the tale of a friend waiting a few days ago for a blood test in hospital. 

She was eavesdropping on an elderly man humorously chatting up a young nurse. “I’m double jabbed you know,” he told her.

There you go. Fully vaccinated. It’s the new road frontage.

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