Britons under 30 should be offered an alternative to AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine due to mounting evidence linking it to rare blood clots, UK health chiefs ruled today.
In a major blow to the UK’s vaccination rollout, the Government’s vaccine advisory group is recommending healthy people aged 19 to 29 be offered either the Pfizer or Moderna jabs instead when the programme moves to younger groups in the coming months.
A review by the drugs watchdog the MHRA found that by the end of March 79 out of 20million Britons vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine had suffered deadly blood clots in the brain or arteries, a rate of about one in 250,000. Nineteen of the cases died and three were under the age of 30.
The MHRA insisted there was still no concrete proof that the British-made vaccine is causing the clots, but admitted the link was getting firmer. The review prompted the Government’s vaccine advisory group, the JCVI, to recommend that people aged 18 to 29 be given an alternative jab.
Britons over that age are still being advised to get the vaccine because the risk of Covid far outweighs the chance of developing the extremely rare conditions. But the JCVI said the benefit to risk ratio was ‘more finely balanced’ in younger people.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Profess Jonathan Van-Tam said the new advice marked a ‘course correction’ for the UK’s rollout – and reiterated that for the vast majority of people the ‘benefits outweigh the risks’.
Announcing the updated guidance today, Dr June Raine, head of the MHRA, told a press conference: ‘Based on the current evidence, the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca against Covid-19 and its associated risks – hospitalisation and death – continues to outweigh the risks for the vast majority of people. Our review has reinforced that the risk of this rare suspected side effect remains extremely small.’
Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency’s safety committee was more restrained and said blood clots should be listed as a ‘very rare side effect’ of the jab. It is not recommending that EU countries restrict its use in any age groups yet until the link has been properly established.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government believes the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is ‘safe’, telling reporters on a visit to Cornwall: ‘But the crucial thing for everybody is to listen to what the scientists, the medical experts have to say later on today.’
He added on the vaccination programme: ‘You can really start to see some of the benefits of that – it’s pretty clear that the decline in the number of deaths, the decline in the number of hospitalisations is being fuelled, is being assisted, the steepness of that decline is being helped by the rollout of the vaccines so it’s very important for everybody to continue to get your second jab when you’re asked to come forward for your turn.’
More than 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have now been given in the UK, saving an estimated 6,000 lives.
Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy medical officer, led a press conference this afternoon, where it was announced the AZ vaccine is being restricted in under 30s
The Government wheeled out a series of graphs comparing the risk of falling ill with Covid compared to the threat of developing blood clots after getting the AZ vaccine. It used three different scenarios, showing the risk when there is a large (shown), medium and small epidemic
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF THE RARE BLOOD CLOTS LINKED TO ASTRAZENECA’S VACCINE?
Shortness of breath
Swelling of leg
Persistent stomach pain
Skin bruising beyond the site of injection
In other coronavirus developments today:
- A 24-year-old carer today became the first person in Britain to get Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine as the roll-out was expanded in Wales – but England will have to wait another fortnight to use the jab;
- The SNP could save Boris Johnson from a growing Tory revolt over domestic vaccine passports as Labour hardened its opposition to the documents;
- No10 refuses to rule out needing proof of jabs to enter non-essential shops, leading to fears you’ll need vaccine passport to buy clothes;
- Boris promises to make it ‘as easy as possible’ for families to travel abroad this summer, with £5 on-the-spot Covid tests set to be allowed instead of gold-standard £100 PCR swabs;
- Lockdown easing could be sped up because vaccines are working, says the scientists who correctly forecast second wave – as SAGE doomsday predictions are criticised for being ‘too pessimistic’;
- Britain’s daily Covid deaths fall by two-thirds in a week with 20 new victims – while cases plunge by 40% to 2,379;
- One in three Covid survivors are diagnosed with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues within six months of recovering, major study finds;
- Generation of home-schooled children lacked ‘discipline and order’ in lockdown says Gavin Williamson as he backs mobile phone ban in schools.
Professor Van-Tam acknowledged the change in recommended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine might result in delays and longer journeys to receive the jab.
He told a press conference: ‘The NHS has a message that we will get the right vaccine to you in the right time according to the new JCVI advice.
‘There might be a small delay sometimes, there might be a slightly greater distance that some people might be asked to travel.
‘But the NHS is all over this and understands the challenge of making the advice from JCVI truly operational in a smooth way.’
Of the 79 people who suffered clots after getting the AstraZenca vaccine in the UK, a total of 19 people have died, although it has not been established what the cause was in every case. The 79 cases occurred in 51 women and 28 men, aged from 18 to 79. Of the 19 who died, three were under the age of 30, the MHRA said.
Some 14 cases of the 19 were cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a specific type of clot that prevents blood from draining from the brain. The other five cases were thrombosis in the arteries.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi tweeted that there was ‘reassurance’ that drug safety standards worked well ‘in both the United Kingdom & the EU’.
He added: ‘This is important in maintaining confidence in the largest vaccination program in history. As @BorisJohnson has said; We will follow the advice & are confident in meeting our programme targets.’
Any stall of the vaccine roll-out would be a political body blow to Boris Johnson who has enjoyed a recovery in the polls thanks to his success deploying jabs after a series of missteps at the start of the pandemic.
Leaked delivery schedules reveal the Government is expecting AstraZeneca’s vaccine to make up 75 per cent of its Covid jab supplies over the next two months. The document, published on the Scottish Government’s website in January and quickly taken down, showed Britain was anticipating about 29.4m doses of AstraZeneca’s jab between April and the first week of June. By comparison, officials expected just 8.5m of Pfizer’s vaccine in the next two months and 1m of the new Moderna jab, which is being rolled out for the first time in Wales today
People are still being encouraged to have the AstraZeneca jab and yesterday Boris Johnson (pictured exercising today) said it was ‘very very important’ the public go for their inoculations
Elle Taylor, 24, today became the first person to receive the Moderna jab in the UK. She said it would help her care for her grandmother ‘properly and safely’
The UK’s drive has already been thrown into crisis, with NHS bosses effectively blocking over-40s from getting jabs this month following India’s decision to block a shipment of 5million AstraZeneca doses that officials hoped would speed up the roll-out.
Officials have put the AstraZeneca jab at the heart of the country’s rollout and the leaked delivery schedule reveal the Government is expecting it to make up 75 per cent of its Covid vaccine supplies over the next two months.
The document, published on the Scottish Government’s website in January and quickly taken down, showed the UK was anticipating about 29.4million doses of AstraZeneca’s jab between April and the first week of June.
For comparison, officials expected just 8.5m of Pfizer’s vaccine — which is already being rationed for second doses — in the next two months. Britain’s supply comes entirely from the EU, which has threatened to block exports of the jab.
Officials were also only expecting 1million doses of the new Moderna jab, which is being rolled out for the first time in Wales today. But supply will trickle in at around 160,000 doses a week, if the leaked plans are still correct. And the UK has only bought 17million – enough to vaccinate 8.5million people.
Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Government’s vaccine advisory group, the JCVI, admitted pausing the AstraZeneca jab could threaten Britain’s roadmap out of lockdown.
He said today: ‘We do need to keep the programme going if the plan to open things up and allow things to get back to normal is to proceed without another wave of the pandemic coming through. So it’s quite a tricky balancing act here, getting the balance right, getting vaccines coming through… getting the risk-benefit right for people coming forward.’
One Tory MP told MailOnline that halting the jab would ‘certainly put things back’, adding: ‘Clearly it would have very adverse consequences because AstraZeneca is the workhorse of the vaccination programme.’
However, the UK inoculation programme could be bolstered if two other promising jabs under review are given approval by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the coming weeks.
The chief scientist behind the US-developed Novavax vaccine, which Britain has secured 60million doses of, has said he expects it to be given the green light this month and rolled out in May. All of the Novavax supplies on order will be manufactured within the UK under a new Government deal announced last week, which could drastically speed up its distribution.
A separate vaccine made by American pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson, which uses the same type of technology as AstraZeneca’s but is administered via a single injection, is slated for a summer rollout. Because people given the J&J vaccine don’t need a 12-week follow-up appointment, it means ministers don’t have to reserve supplies for second doses and can unleash them all at once.
MHRA sources originally said it would be ban for under-30s, which wouldn’t pose as much damage to roll-out. But there are fears that any ban could dent public confidence.
Britain’s inoculation drive drastically slowed down over the Easter weekend, figures show. Just 100,000 vaccines were dished out on Sunday and Monday, reaching 88,000 Britons.