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The Relevance of Context

By Brett Palmer

There is no question the Delta variant of Covid-19 is creating major disruption and loss of life across the globe. In Australia, all States have experienced some level of disruption over recent weeks, and Sydney remains in the grip of an outbreak that has seen a lock down for 5 weeks, with another 4 weeks to run (at least). Whether we place the blame for the low vaccination rate at the feet of politicians, or the media, the fact remains that we need to increase the vaccination coverage of all Australians to get us out, and keep us out, of the current wave of infection.

The revision of vaccine advice by Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), stating that “all individuals aged 18 years and above in Greater Sydney should strongly consider getting vaccinated with any available vaccine — including Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca” is based upon the increasing risk of disease in the Greater Sydney Area, and the ongoing constraints in Pfizer vaccine.

In a risk workshop earlier this week I was asked to explain the change in the ATAGI recommendation through a risk management lens - “why would it be ok to recommend AstraZeneca now, when it wasn’t safe to do so previously? Surely the risk of blood clots arising as a consequence of the AstraZeneca vaccine hasn’t changed – why would the recommendation change?”

The risk itself hasn’t changed, but the context of the risk has, and that has demanded a change in response to it.

When we had Covid under some level of control (relatively speaking) the broader community perception was that the clotting risk associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine was not acceptable, and it was better to wait for the Pfizer vaccine to be available. The probability of clotting was perceived to be too high (even though it is extremely low), against a low probability of contracting the disease.

The context of the risk has changed significantly, and we now find that the probability of contracting Covid is far greater. Accordingly, the risk of Covid is now greater than the risk of the AstraZeneca vaccination, resulting in the revised ATAGI advice.

The risk of contracting Covid remains. The context of the risk has changed, and accordingly how we respond to the risk has also changed.

Of course, for many people the risk of Covid has always been far greater than the risk of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. For these individuals, the context is largely unchanged.

In Risk Management, context is extremely important. Changes in context, both internal and external to an organisation, can influence changes in how risks are rated. It’s critical that all risks, both threats and opportunities, be monitored to ensure changes in context are identified and actioned accordingly, ensuring that low risks don’t become high impact incidents and missed opportunities.

From risk comes opportunity


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