Viral TikTok Highlights How Birth Control Pills Have Higher Blood Clot Risk Than AstraZeneca Vaccine

A viral TikTok video has opened the door for a conversation about the dangers of birth control pills as many countries in the European Union debate continuing to use the pharmaceutical company's COVID-19 vaccine.

TikTok user Alyss Elizabeth made a video about the seemingly different levels of scrutiny between assessing the risk of blood clots for the vaccine versus the birth control pill.

In her video, she said countries in Europe stopped the AstraZeneca vaccine roll out because of a six in one million chance of blood clot, while there is a "six in 10,000 chance of developing blood clots" for women on the pill.

Newsweek previously reported that there have only been 17 reported cases of blood clots among the 17 million people in Europe who have received the vaccine, but the concern of the possibility prompted numerous countries to stop administering the shot. Some have since resumed after the European Medicine Agency and the World Health Organization both agreed that the risk of such a complication is minor and the vaccine remains safe to use.

"Our thorough and careful review, alongside the critical assessment of leading, independent scientists, shows that there is no evidence that blood clots in veins are occurring more than would be expected in the absence of vaccination, for either vaccine," United Kingdom's Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) Chief Executive Dr. June Raine said in a statement.

But the video posted by Alyss Elizabeth has led to conversations among women who take birth control pills, a group which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says totals 65.3 percent of women aged 15 to 49 in the U.S. from 2017-2019. Oral contraceptive pills are the second most common method used.

Women take birth control pills for a myriad of reasons besides contraception, including to treat endometriosis, to lower the risk of certain cancers and to reduce acne, menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Possible side effects range from minor headaches and nausea to serious blood clots, strokes and liver disorders.

It's the synthetic estrogen found in the birth control pill, most commonly Ethinylestradiol, can increase the risk of blood clotting in women. But according to the National Blood Clot Alliance (NBCA), women's bodies have evolved to produce more clotting factor proteins early on in pregnancy to protect themselves from serious pregnancy-related bleeding. When birth control methods are made with pregnancy hormones like estrogen, the body thinks it's pregnant and these same changes will occur, putting women at an increased risk for blood clots.

The average rate of developing a blood clot for the general population of reproductive-aged women is about one in 10,000, according to Dr. Kathryn McKenney, a Yale Medicine OB/Gyn.

Age, pregnancy, medications and family history can increase the risk of blood clots in women, and McKenney said the risk doubles for women taking birth control pills. That's still considerably less than developing blood clots while pregnant, which McKennedy said is ten-times higher.

Dr. Alok Khorana, the Chairman of the NBCA Medical and Scientific Advisory Board, said there is a lot of misinformation surrounding blood clots and the vaccine.

"We don't know there is an increase of blood clots with the AstraZeneca vaccine, we only know there are reports of individual patients getting blood clots within a short time frame after receiving the vaccine," he said. "There is a baseline risk of getting blood clots in the general public with or with getting this vaccine."

Khorana said comparing the risk of blood clotting for those on the pill and those who receive the vaccine is "a little more apples to oranges" situation.

The risk of blood clotting for women on the pill is more quantifiable and has been studied at length. Additionally, the pill is taken once a day for a longer duration, whereas the vaccine is taken only once.

McKenney noted that the "surge in vaccine hesitancy among the general public" over the past decade has made people "very nervous" to hear about any potential adverse effect of a vaccine.

"In general, the risk women undertake by being under birth control is comparable to risk we take in everyday lives, whereas risks of rare but serious adverse vaccine effects are so much lower than those risks we routinely take," McKenney said.

She added that there is a small risk of a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but that "the likelihood of having that adverse effect is a lot less likely than getting in a car accident when you walk out the door."

The health risks for not taking a birth control pill and not getting vaccinated differ as well. The International Society on thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH) recommends eligible adults receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, because "based on currently available data, the ISTH believes that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination strongly outweigh any potential complications and recommends vaccination of all eligible adults."

AstraZeneca, COVID-19 Vaccine, Belgium
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French Prime Minister Jean Castex are due to receive their first doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Friday. In the photograph above, elderly residents arrive to receive COVID-19 vaccines at the Woluwe-Saint-Pierre vaccination center, which is primarily administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, on March 18, 2021 in Brussels, Belgium. Jean-Christophe Guillaume/Getty Images