Young people in the UK aged 18-29 are to be offered an alternative coronavirus vaccine to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab due to growing evidence linking it to very rare blood clots.
The move means that people in this age bracket that have not already been vaccinated should be offered a coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna when it is their turn to be vaccinated.
By the end of March 2021, 79 people in the UK suffered rare blood clots after receiving the AZ vaccine, 19 of whom died. The people affected by the rare blood clots were from a range of age groups, with those who died aged between 18 and 79. However, nearly two-thirds of the cases of blood clots were identified in women and most cases occurred in people under 60 years old.
Over 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab have been given in the UK, but regulators have warned that no effective medicine can come completely free of risks.
The European Medicines Agency and the UK’s Medicine’s Regulator have both highlighted the great benefits of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in protecting people from coronavirus and have said that overall, they outweigh the risks of side effects.
In old people, there is a much higher risk of death or serious illness from COVID-19 than in young people, so the benefits of taking the vaccine are still very favourable. In young people, the risks of death from the virus are much smaller, so the benefits of the vaccine do not outweigh the risks of potential side effects to the same extent.
In the EU, The European’s Medicines Agency has recommended that “unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects” of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.
The findings of the reviews by the MHRA in the UK and the EMA in the EU may harm confidence in the AZ vaccine, especially in the EU where public support for the vaccine has already been low.
The move in the UK to restrict usage of the vaccine could possibly lead to minor delays in young people being offered the vaccine – though it has been indicated that the timings of the vaccination programme should be able to continue as planned.
England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam attempted to reassure members of the public on Wednesday, saying “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”