Under 30s to be offered alternative to Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine
- Credit: Denise Bradley
The benefits of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine continue to outweigh any risks for most people, the UK medicines watchdog has said.
A review by the European Medicines Agency's [EMA] safety committee concluded on Wednesday that "unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects" of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine [AZ].
However, due to a very small number of blood clots in younger people, those under the age of 30 will be offered Pfizer or Moderna instead.
In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there were still huge benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid-19 and serious disease.
Emer Cooke, executive director of the EMA, said: "This vaccine has proven to be highly effective to prevent severe diseases and hospitalisation, and it's saving lives. Vaccination is extremely important in the fight against Covid-19 and we need to use the vaccines to protect us from devastating effects."
The medicine regulator's review of the AZ vaccine by an expert group has shown the combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is "very rare".
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The EMA said one plausible explanation was an "immune response to the vaccine" leading to a similar condition which is sometimes seen in patients treated with heparin.
Heparin is used to treat and prevent blood clots caused by certain medical conditions or medical procedures.
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Most of the cases of reported blood clots had occurred in women under the age of 60, regulators said.
Up to March 31, the MHRA has received 79 reports of blood clots accompanied by low blood platelet count, all in people who had their first dose of the vaccine.
Of these 79, 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.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam told a press briefing on Wednesday that it remains very important those adults called for a second dose come forward when asked.
“Vaccines continue to be the way out for the UK, they continue to be the way in which we can get our lives back to normal and our economy opened up again the shortest time possible," he added.
Professor Wei Shen, chairman of the Joint Committee Vaccination and Immunisation [JCVI] described the vaccine programme as "fair and transparent"
He said the "benefit risk balance" is important and stressed there is overall benefit for young people to be vaccinated.
Prof Shen added: "It happens that where we have an alternative vaccine, we feel on balance it would be preferable to offer the very youngest people who have no other health conditions the alternative vaccine instead of the AZ vaccine really just on the side of safety rather than any particular concern about the risk of the vaccine itself."
He said those aged 31 and 32 should make their own decision about what they want to do with vaccination, but stressed the balance is still in favour of getting the vaccine.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he will carefully follow the advice on the AZ vaccine from the JCVI but does not believe he will have to alter the schedule for easing the lockdown.
During a visit to Cornwall, he told broadcasters: "I think the crucial thing on this is to listen to what the scientists, and the doctors, the medical experts, have to say.
"The MHRA is meeting, the JCVI is meeting, they'll be setting out the position and we will get on with rolling out the vaccine and obviously we'll follow very carefully what they have to say.
"I don't think anything that I have seen leads me to suppose that we will have to change the road map or deviate from the road map in any way."
More than 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have now been given in the UK, saving an estimated 6,000 lives.