- Opinion Piece -

Weigh Up a Vaccine’s Pain and Gain

Does anybody know what a micromort is? No, it is not a small American cartoonist. A micromort is a concept developed by Ronald Howard, a professor at Stanford University, to establish the probability of death. A micromort is one chance in one million that a person will die. Micromorts can be applied to different activates, situations and, most critically in our current situation, taking medications.

The micromort is based on statistical analysis and exposure to risk. Climbing Mount Everest has about 40,000 micromorts per ascent. Sky diving exposes you to 8 micromorts per jump. Driving a car for 400 km, so from Shepparton to Melbourne and back, is one micromorts worth of risk. If you go for a swim, you have 12 micromorts of exposure to the risk of drowning.

According to analysis by David Orzai, senior lecturer at Monash University, taking the Astra Zeneca vaccine has a whole 1.86 micromorts worth of probability. There is a decent sample size, also, with more than 400 million doses having been administered globally so far. So, if I drive a bit further than Melbourne, say, to Lorne and back, I will expose myself to the same risk of dying as I would by taking Astra Zeneca.

Of course, our human brains often don’t operate like that. What is on the front page of the newspapers or headlining the TV news is what strikes fear into us. There are media outlets that pander to the natural anxiety of people because it sells content.

It is useful to apply a statistical, mathematical lens to decision-making and risk of mortality. The micromort associated with Covid 19 depends on the amount of virus in given community. New York and Italy had a high Covid micromort last year compared to Australia. In NSW, the micromort is getting higher as more virus is being transmitted. That is why health experts are suggesting that people consider getting the Astra Zeneca vaccine, as the benefits outweigh the very low risk.

The sooner we get high proportion of the population vaccinated, the sooner we will no longer have to endure these crippling lockdowns. That comes down to the government’s ability to make the vaccines available and the community’s ability to evaluate risk and get vaccinated. People have the right to make their own decisions about vaccines. But those decisions should be based on facts and statistics. Especially when they affect the lives and livelihoods of so many of their fellow Australians.

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Sam Birrell

Sam Birrell