Britons aged 18 to 29 will be offered an alternative Covid-19 jab to the one made by AstraZeneca, due to evidence linking it to rare blood clots in young people, the UK’s vaccine advisory body has said.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced the move on Wednesday after the UK’s drug regulator said 79 people had suffered blood clots by the end of March after they were vaccinated.
A total of 19 people have died from blood clots, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said, but stressed that this did not prove the vaccine had caused the clots.
The blood clot risk for younger people is slightly higher, with 51 women and 28 men in the UK aged 18 to 79 affected by the condition after vaccination.
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The head of the MHRA, June Raine, said the side effects are “extremely rare” and that further investigation would take place to determine if the vaccine had caused blood clots. She added that, based on the data to date, the risk essentially boiled down to four people in a million.
The government’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, said the offer of an alternative vaccine to young people marks a “change of course” to the UK’s “enormously successful” vaccine rollout.
Van-Tam said he would have been “amazed” in March 2020 if he had been told that the UK would not need a “course correction” to its vaccination programme by March 2021.
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“If you sail a massive liner across the Atlantic then it’s not really reasonable that you aren’t going to have to make at least one course correction during that voyage,” he noted.
JCVI Chairman Lim Wei Shen said the product information given to health professionals and individuals offered the AstraZeneca vaccine should be updated. He also said people who have received their first dose of the jab should get their booster shot and that healthy people aged 18-29 should be offered an alternative vaccine “where possible.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) reiterated that the AstraZeneca vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks, but said “unusual blood clots with low blood platelets” can be a “very rare side effect.”
Amid the safety concerns, an Oxford University trial of the jab in children, which involved around 300 volunteers, was halted on Tuesday while MHRA investigates the link to clots as a potential side effect.
Shortly after the MHRA update, the World Health Organization’s committee on vaccine safety said in a statement that cases of blood clots linked to AstraZeneca’s vaccine are “concerning” but “very rare”. It added that further studies into the issue are needed and it will continue to review any new data.
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