Government Backs Decision Not To Offer AstraZeneca Vaccines To Under 30s Over Possible Blood Clot Link
Downing Street has given its backing to a decision by the UK's medicines regulator to stop the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine being given to the under 30s over its connection to very rare cases of blood clots.
A government source told PoliticsHome that the AstraZeneca vaccine remains key in worldwide vaccination against coronavirus due to its cost and "we need to work through these issues" when they arise.
Under-30s will now be offered alternative Covid vaccines due to concerns over rare blood clots, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided.
This follows an investigation where 79 people in the UK had suffered rare blood clots – with 19 deaths, including three aged under 30 – after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam described the clots as "vanishingly rare", but an incredibly serious side effect nonetheless.
The UK has gone further than the European Medicines Agency which also said it could not rule out a link between blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine, but plans to continue offering it to all age groups.
The discrepancy came as a suprise after EU-UK relations over the AstraZeneca vaccine have been steeped in tension this year, with the EU generally taking a more cautious stance. A government source said that the roll-out of any vaccine ends up being political, even though it shouldn't be.
Conservative MP Theresa Villiers was among members of the government who welcomed today's decision to limit use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the younger age group.
"Clearly they are taking a very cautious approach in relation to the under 30s but we have got to trust the scientists," she said.
Those aged 18-29 will instead be offered alternative vaccines, like the Pfizer and Moderna jab, supplies of which are expected to be more plentiful in the UK by the time the roll-out reached that age group around July.
Some backbench Tory MPs have been increasingly fractious in recent weeks about Covid-restrictions, wanting the unlocking to happen faster. There has also been upset about the possibility of vaccine certification schemes to get into large scale events.
However today's vaccine decision is said to have been largely accepted, and MP WhatsApp groups have remained quiet in response to the news.
Conservative former health minister Stephen Hammond told PoliticsHome: "The MHRA are right to take a precautionary approach, however overwhelming the evidence is that Oxford/AstraZeneca is a safe and effective vaccine, and there is a far greater risk to your health by not having it."
Labour also reiterated support for the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite the new age restrictions. "The AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, effective and saving thousands of lives," Keir Starmer tweeted. "Trust in our doctors and scientists. When it is your turn to get the jab, do so. My first dose was AstraZeneca and I look forward to getting my second dose when it is offered."
A government spokesperson said: “As the MHRA – the UK’s independent regulator – and the JCVI have said, the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks for the vast majority of adults.
“Everybody who has already had a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should receive a second dose of the same brand, irrespective of age, except for the very small number of people who experienced blood clots with low platelet counts from their first vaccination.
“The government will follow today’s updated advice, which sets out that, as a precaution, it is preferable for people under the age of 30 with no underlying health conditions to be offered an alternative vaccine where possible once they are eligible."
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