Under-30s in the UK will be offered an alternative to the Astrazeneca Covid vaccine following mounting evidence leading it to rare blood clots, Britain’s medicines regulator has ruled.
A review by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) found that by the end of March, 79 people in the UK had suffered rare blood clots after taking the vaccine — 19 of whom died.
It said potential side effects were extremely rare, but that the risks remained greater amongst younger people. Nearly two-thirds of the cases were among women.
The review prompted the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the government’s advisory group, to recommend that people aged between 18 and 29 be offered an alternative vaccine where possible.
The JCVI insisted the recommendation did not amount to a ban on the Astrazeneca jab for young people, but merely “a preference” that they seek an alternative.
Those who have already received their first dose of the Astrazeneca jab should still get their second, the medicines body said.
JCVI chairman Professor Wei Shen Lim told a press conference: “We are advising a preference of one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group out of utmost caution rather than any serious safety concerns.”
“The risk is four people in a million,” added Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA.
It is not yet known whether the MHRA’s ruling will affect the Prime Minister’s roadmap for leaving lockdown.
Boris Johnson said this afternoon that the government firmly believes the Astrazeneca vaccine remains “safe”.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said the changes being proposed to the vaccination rollout were a “course correction”.
“The UK vaccine programme has been the most enormous success indeed,” he said. “If you had said to me that by March 2021 we would not have needed a course correction, that also would have amazed me… If you sail a massive liner across the Atlantic, it’s not really reasonable to expect that you won’t have to make at least one course adjustment”.
Van-Tam said any changes to the UK’s vaccination timetable would be “zero or negligible”, but that there might be a “slight delay” for individual vaccine administrations.
The government has set a target of 15 April to offer a first dose of a Covid vaccine to all over-50s by 15 April, and all adults in the UK by 31 July.
The UK this morning began the rollout of the Moderna vaccine, with 17m doses of the jab set to be delivered to Britain over the next year.
The government has also ordered 40m doses of the Covid vaccine being produced by Pfizer and Biontech, with the Novavax and Johnson & Johnson jabs set to be added to the UK’s portfolio over the next few months.
Trials of the Astrazeneca vaccine on children in the UK were paused yesterday, with ministers urging the public to take up the vaccine when offered this morning.
It comes on the same day that the European medicines regulator said that the “unusual blood clots” should be listed as a “very rare” side effect of the Astrazeneca vaccine.
Those administered with the vaccine should be made aware of the possibility of very rare cases of blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets occurring within two weeks of vaccination, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) ruled.
However, it said the vaccine should continue to be used to all age groups.
“The reported combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is very rare, and the overall benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid-19 outweigh the risks of side effects,” the EMA concluded.