Britain yesterday said it will adopt new medical advice to offer most people aged under 30 an alternative to the AstraZeneca coronavirus jab if possible, due to heightened concerns over blood clots.
A potential blow to the UK’s highly successful Covid-19 vaccine programme, it comes after the country’s medicines regulator reassessed the shot’s safety following dozens of clotting incidents among people who had received it.
The MHRA regulator said its “rigorous scientific review of all available data” had found 79 blood clots and 19 deaths among people who had received one of the 20 million AstraZeneca doses administered in the UK.
It insisted such incidents after having the jab remained “extremely rare” and that its benefits continue to outweigh any risks.
However the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government, said given the lower risk posed by the virus to young people, it would change its guidance for them.
“Adults who are aged 18 to 29 years old who do not have an underlying health condition... should be offered an alternative Covid-19 vaccine in preference to the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Wei Shen Lim of the JCVI said at a press conference.
He noted that alternatives, which in Britain currently are vaccines developed by US firm Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, should be offered “if available”.
Britain has administered nearly 32 million first vaccine doses to people, around 60% of the adult population in one of the world’s most successful inoculation drives.
But the country has relied heavily on the AstraZeneca shot, developed in partnership with Oxford University.
It has faced a host of issues in Europe and beyond since it began to be rolled out in the UK in early December.
The European Medicines Agency said yesterday that clots should be listed as a “very rare” side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but agreed that its benefits continue to outweigh the risks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the latest reviews and new guidance from the JCVI, noting the vaccine is “safe, effective and has already saved thousands of lives”.
“We will follow today’s updated advice, which should allow people of all ages to continue to have full confidence in vaccines, helping us save lives and cautiously return towards normality,” he said on Twitter.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam described the new advice as “a course correction” in the vaccine drive.
“There’s no question about that, but it is in a sense, in medicine, quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time,” he said.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted Britain remained “on track” to offer a first dose to all adults by the end of July and urged people to take whichever shot they were offered.
The developments came as the UK began rolling out the first of 17 million Moderna vaccines ordered, its third approved jab and which is already being delivered in Europe and the United States.
The first shot of the two-stage Moderna inoculation was given at a hospital in Wales to 24-year-old Elle Taylor.
“I’m an unpaid carer for my grandmother so it is very important to me that I get it, so I can care for her properly and safely,” she told reporters.
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