Understanding the risks and benefits of vaccination can help you make the right decision for you or your family about having a Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccinating against Covid-19 is the only way for Australians to get their everyday lives back, but as a nation, we’re struggling.
News.com.au’s Our Best Shot campaign answers your questions about the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
It’s fair to say the vaccine rollout has confused Australians. We’ll cut through the spin and give you clear information so you can make an informed decision. If you’re generally fit and healthy and living somewhere with very few or no cases of Covid-19 in your community.
You might wonder – is getting the vaccine worth the potential side effects if the severe impacts of the disease don’t feel like a threat to you? Or what about pre-existing health conditions – do they increase your risk of experiencing more severe side effects? How do we think about risks and benefits?
We make decisions every day about risk without thinking about it.
But when the decision is more important, like getting a Covid-19 vaccine, understanding how our unconscious thinking patterns and biases affect our decision-making can help us make good choices.
Human brains use mental shortcuts (called ‘heuristics’) all the time to enable quick decision-making.
However, these shortcuts can skew our perception of how risky an activity is or how likely a particular outcome might be. Examples include:
Over-estimating risk: We often overestimate the chances that a severe but rare event might occur. If that rare event is all over the media – like cases of TTS, the blood clotting syndrome linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine – we tend to over-estimate those chances even more.
Choosing to do nothing: Sometimes people want to avoid a sense of regret (‘what if I make the wrong choice?’) and are more willing to accept an outcome if it’s the result of doing nothing (‘if I avoid the vaccine, I know I might catch Covid-19’).
What are your risk factors for COVID-19 – and what about vaccines?
Many pre-existing health conditions and other factors can increase your risk of becoming severely ill or dying from Covid-19 or experiencing long-lasting impacts.
The risk depends on many factors, such as how much disease is circulating in the community, which Covid-19 strains are prevalent, and on your individual circumstances.
Apart from increasing age, common risk factors include diabetes, obesity, particular heart or lung conditions, chronic inflammatory conditions, or having an immune deficiency.
The risk of severe illness also increases as you get older, especially for people over the age of 70 years, and is higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or people who smoke.