The Covid pandemic has left a well-documented trail of destruction.

According to official figures, there have been nearly 230,000 Covid deaths in the UK since the beginning of 2020.

By March of this year, there were 1.3 million people living with long Covid who had been experiencing symptoms - often debilitating to their daily lives - for at least a year.

The Herald: UK Covid deaths over time (World Health Organisation)UK Covid deaths over time (World Health Organisation) (Image: WHO)

Waiting lists for elective treatment on the NHS have soared, excess deaths are up, and the number of working age adults in Britain who have dropped out of the labour market due to health reasons has climbed to 2.6 million, up from around two million before the pandemic.

The Herald:

There is another group of people who are rarely ever mentioned, however, because their loss or injury is considered virtually taboo: the vaccine injured and bereaved.

READ MORE: 'Vaccine injured and bereaved' groups to give evidence at UK Covid Inquiry

It should be possible to acknowledge they exist - all pharmaceuticals carry a risk of adverse events, however rare - but the topic is so fraught with misinformation from conspiracy theorists and antivaxxers and that (as a health journalist in the "mainstream media/MSM") it feels almost dangerous to do so.

The dilemma was summed up on Wednesday during a preliminary hearing at the UK Covid Inquiry where Anna Morris KC - representing three 'core participants', Vaccine Injured Bereaved UK, UK CV Family, and the Scottish Vaccine Injured Group - said its members feel unable to express their experiences without being "misunderstood, misrepresented or used for somebody else's agenda".

The Herald: Anna Morris KC. Three vaccine injured/bereaved groups have been given core participant status, with representatives due to give evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry in July 2024Anna Morris KC. Three vaccine injured/bereaved groups have been given core participant status, with representatives due to give evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry in July 2024 (Image: UK Covid Inquiry)

At one end of the spectrum, they face having antivaxxers exploit their genuine grief to fuel a false narrative about an epidemic of vaccine harm, while others would prefer that they do not speak up at all - that doing so is simply irresponsible.

Collectively these three groups represent around 1,350 people who have been injured, disabled or bereaved as a result of adverse reactions to one of the Covid vaccines.

This is a small number of people which in no way undermines the overwhelming reality that the vaccines did much more good than harm - saving lives and bringing an end to lockdowns - but these individuals deserve to be treated fairly, and our current system is woeful.

Since 1979, the UK's Vaccine Damage Payment scheme has existed as a purported safety net for people who are harmed or bereaved as a result of one of the UK's approved vaccines.

Prior to the pandemic it dealt with around 100 claims a year, but by July this year it had received nearly 6,400 applications in relation to the Covid vaccines alone.

To be clear, this reflects the sheer scale of the rollout - more than 151 million doses administered in the UK to date - but it does mean that hundreds are waiting years for a decision.

READ MORE: Covid vaccines are safe - but damages should be fair for those harmed 

The Herald:

The scheme awards a one-off lump sum of £120,000, but applicants must be able to prove causality and meet a threshold of "60% disability", either physical or cognitive.

This has a number of problems. Firstly, the sum has not altered in 40 years; if it had increased in line with inflation it would be worth over £500,000 now, and yet simply receiving it can mean that recipients have other benefits cancelled.

In addition, it is a one-size-fits-all amount. Campaigners argue that it should be replaced by a sliding scale, with no upper limit, which compensates people in line with the extent of their disability or loss.

Causality tends to relate to known side effects, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome. Successful claims to date for the Covid vaccines also include vaccine-induced thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (VITT) - blood clots with low platelet levels - which was estimated to have occurred in the UK at a rate of around one per 67,000 first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and one per 556,000 second doses.

Even among adults aged 20-29, the probability of being admitted to intensive care with Covid complications was around double the risk of serious side effects from the AZ vaccine - but, inevitably, they happened.

The Herald: The risk of serious harms due to Covid vaccines was extremely small and outweighed by the benefits in terms of protecting against serious Covid illness - but it did exist The risk of serious harms due to Covid vaccines was extremely small and outweighed by the benefits in terms of protecting against serious Covid illness - but it did exist (Image: JCVI)

One high-profile case was that of 44-year-old BBC Radio Newscastle presenter, Lisa Shaw. In August 2021, a coroner ruled that she had died from VITT - which led to swelling and bleeding on her brain - within days of her first AZ vaccine dose.

Her widower, Gareth Eve, is among 127 people to have received a £120,000 damages payment in connection with Covid vaccines, but that is a rarity.

Of the 6,392 applications to date, just 2,352 have reached an outcome of which 2,225 were rejected.

This includes 177 people who were unsuccessful "solely because they did not meet the 60% disabled criteria, even though causation was accepted".

Other claimants run into problems getting the required written paperwork from doctors citing vaccines as the main cause of injury or death.

The Herald: Gareth Eve and wife Lisa Shaw, who died in May 2021Gareth Eve and wife Lisa Shaw, who died in May 2021 (Image: Gareth Eve)

And, of course, some claims may be spurious. Social media is full of assertions that thousands of people have died as a result of Covid vaccines based on reports to the UK's yellow card scheme, which collects data on possible side effects occurring after any medicines - but this does not prove cause and effect.

If you gave a 60 million people a Mars bar and then tracked what happened to them over the next four weeks, some would die, have heart attacks or be diagnosed with cancers; that does not mean it was caused by the Mars bar.

READ MORE: Covid vaccines, the GMC, and the row over Aseem Malhotra 

In Scotland, a population-wide surveillance project - EAVE II - was used to monitor Covid vaccine safety, comparing what happened to people before and after vaccination in order to decipher any "excess" risks: incidents occurring within a 30-day period of inoculation at a notably higher rate than would normally be expected.

This enables scientists to distinguish real side effects from chance, and to determine whether the risk is worth it. For example, the probability of any rare side effects - such as blood clots - was usually even higher for an unvaccinated person contracting Covid. 

Vaccination was safe, and it was rational. But the necessity of getting that message across should not mean that we censor, sideline, or ignore the few who have been harmed. 

Acknowledgement is the least they deserve.