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Covid-19 Vaccination: Coronary Disease

Volume 837: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the connection between COVID-19 vaccination and increased prevalence of coronary disease.

The Government are taking action to tackle cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, including through supporting improved uptake of the NHS Health Check England cardiovascular disease prevention programme. There is no evidence linking Covid-19 vaccines to increased levels of coronary heart disease. All vaccines used in the UK are authorised only once they have met robust standards of effectiveness, safety and quality set by the UK independent regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

I thank the Minister for his reply. A considerable number of cardiologists, other medical practitioners and scientists have raised concerns about a link, especially among younger people, amid a pervasive sense of a lack of transparency. A reluctance to disclose the full gamut of information sits uneasily with the Government’s ongoing encouragement for people to get vaccinated. To resolve this, can the Government at least publish data on cardiac deaths in the ever vaccinated and never vaccinated by age group for 2022, 2023 and onwards?

I thank my noble friend for this question. The ONS has provided this information and made it available for research purposes to make absolutely sure that we get to the bottom of this issue. For the understanding of noble Lords, every medical vaccine has side-effects, but the MHRA has investigated this, and the side-effect that people are worried about is heart inflammation. One to two people per 100,000 who have had a vaccine experienced side-effects, but, for people who have had Covid, it is 150 per 100,000. Having these vaccines is a much safer route to go.

My Lords, there is one substance that we put into our bodies during Covid that has been clearly linked to thousands of excess deaths: alcohol. Are the Government carrying out studies into what happened with alcohol consumption during the pandemic, who was most at risk and how we can ensure that in any future pandemics we do not see excess deaths? We are talking about 2,500 excess deaths during 2022.

The noble Lord is quite right. There were much wider effects and impacts in the lockdown, and alcohol intake was one of them; mental health, particularly of our children, was another. My sincere hope is that these are the kinds of issues that the Covid inquiry should really be investigating: the wider impacts on society caused by lockdown.

My Lords, a recent study published in Vaccine of a cohort of 99 million people who were vaccinated with one of the vaccines—either vector or messenger RNA vaccines—showed an increased risk related to myocarditis and pericarditis. The incidence, particularly among the younger people, was about one in 10 in a 1 million population, as opposed to the non-vaccinated who got Covid. That should be the comparison, not the non-vaccinated who did not get Covid. In those cases, things such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a long-term viral fatigue syndrome, occurred at a higher incidence in non-vaccinated people than in vaccinated people, particularly with the Oxford/AstraZeneca number 1 vaccine, which was withdrawn. Therefore, it is a balance of whether the disease or the vaccine will make you more sick. With any treatment in any branch of medicine, there is always a risk to the treatment. There has to be a balance.

I am sure I speak for the whole House when thanking the noble Lord for his expert understanding and insights. As he said, the evidence is very clear that while no vaccine is risk-free, what it saves you from is much greater. The very firm advice is that you are much better off having the vaccine.

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister about the efficacy of the vaccine in preventing transmission? It does seem to be very good at keeping people out of hospital and keeping people alive, but we built the most immense edifice of restrictions around the idea that it was preventing the transmission of Covid. We had vaccine passports and travel bans, and it now seems that both the WHO and Pfizer knew at the time that its efficacy when it came to preventing transmission was negligible. Can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what his department’s latest assessment is of the vaccine’s ability to prevent giving Covid to other people?

The main thing that the vaccine did was prevent any bad effects if you did get Covid. While it might not have reduced transmission much, its main benefit was that it reduced the effects if you had it, as well as hospitalisations and deaths. Making Covid a less serious disease, basically, enabled us to open up the country and we were one of the first to get going again because we knew that the disease no longer posed the high risk that it did before we had the vaccines.

My Lords, I have some personal experience here. One week after I had my first course of Covid vaccination, I had an attack of pericarditis and ended up in St Thomas’ Hospital. I am convinced that there is a link, but it is important to look at the longer-term effects—having an attack of Covid causes more heart problems, as well as having a long-term impact on your general health.

The noble Lord is absolutely correct. The MHRA study on heart inflammation, which he mentioned, said that there is that side-effect for one to two people per 100,000—unfortunately, the noble Lord seems to have been one of them. However, if you get Covid it affects 150 people per 100,000. On balance, if you have not had the vaccination, your risk is 22 per 100,000. The statistics are very clear.

My Lords, does the Minister think that we need to do far more on public awareness of vaccines and their benefits? All sorts of people out there are spreading malicious tales about the implications of taking them, whether for mumps or Covid.

Absolutely. We are all very aware of the damage done by all the myths around the MMR vaccine 20 to 30 years ago and the impact that has had on people. The more we can get the message out, the better. As the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, asked me yesterday, we have learned that it is about making sure that we communicate to all groups so that we can make sure that ethnic minorities and other minority groups get that information.

My Lords, after many years of stalled progress, the rate of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease continues to increase, for reasons that the British Heart Foundation describes as “multiple and complex”. The warning signs of this have been present for over a decade. As this phenomenon did not start with Covid, what assessment has been made of the contributory factors of government policy pre Covid and what steps are being taken to turn this around?

Deaths from heart disease among those under 75 are down by about 20% compared with 2010, which is a clear trend. Notwithstanding that, we are very aware—Sir Chris Whitty is concerned about this—that Covid meant that a lot of people did not get basic heart and blood pressure checks. That is why we have introduced the Midlife MoT, which is designed to give people a 10-year risk analysis; have put blood pressure devices in pharmacies and all sorts of other places to get 2 million checks; and have a workplace heart disease strategy check. All this is designed to get that prevention in place so that people are aware of and understand the risks.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although we are talking about heart disease, we must also remember pulmonary embolism from clotting disorders, which can persist for up to six months after even a mild Covid infection? A massive pulmonary embolus is another cause of mortality in people who have Covid. One of the problems with the virus is its ability to mutate, but the evidence is that vaccination, even if it does not give you complete protection, moves you from obtaining serious Covid to having milder Covid. That risk of thromboembolism also needs to be monitored in the long term in relation to Covid infections, including for those who have had a mild infection and those who have long Covid.

The noble Baroness is absolutely correct: a vaccine helped you avoid not just heart disease but all the other impacts of Covid that she mentioned, including long Covid and a whole list of other things. Again, the undeniable advice is that it is much better to have the Covid vaccine.