British Prime Minister Boris Johnson poses for a photo with a vial of the AstraZeneca / Oxford University Covid-19 candidate vaccine.
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UK government and country health experts have rushed to defend the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford following concerns about a possible link to blood clots.
UK health and vaccine regulators on Wednesday released a change in focus on who should get the vaccine. They are now recommending that anyone under the age of 30 receive an alternative vaccine, fearing that in rare circumstances it could lead to a serious blood clot.
Following a safety review of the AstraZeneca vaccine, prompted by concerns about reports of rare blood clotting disorders in a small number of vaccinated individuals, UK and EU drug regulators (the MHRA and the ‘EMA, respectively) pointed out that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.
However, fearing the vaccine’s reputation could be further damaged, experts rushed to defend it – and one Twitter user said officials appeared to have gone into ‘harm limitation’ mode.
The UK Health Secretary on Thursday stressed that the risk of a blood clot after receiving the AstraZeneca Covid vaccination is about the same as on a long-haul flight. He said the safety measures surrounding the vaccine were robust and allowed regulators to “spot this extremely rare event.”
On the chances of developing a blood clot, Matt Hancock told TBEN Breakfast: “The security system we have around this vaccine is so sensitive that it can detect events that are four in a million – I’m told that’s roughly the same risk of taking a long-haul flight. “
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who himself received a first injection of the vaccine, said that “the best thing people should do is look at what the MHRA, our independent regulator, is saying – this is is why we have them, this is why they are independent.
“Their advice to people is to keep going out there, take your jab, take your second jab,” he added on Thursday.
It comes amid growing concerns that Wednesday’s announcement could lead to vaccine hesitation in Britain, where the vaccination program has gone well so far, with more than 31.7 million adults who have received a first dose of a vaccine to date. The UK worked through priority groups for a vaccine, with the under 50s (with no underlying health issues) next for a vaccine.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam also sought to downplay concerns on Wednesday, saying reports of blood clots were “extremely rare”. He also noted that “vaccine preference changes are business as usual and this is a course correction.”
“If you’re crossing the Atlantic on a huge ocean liner, it’s not really reasonable that you don’t have to make at least one course correction on that trip,” he said during a briefing. press, adding that the vaccines were kept. under “very careful consideration”.
Reluctance to vaccination is ‘clearly a concern’
Andrew Freedman, infectious disease reader at Cardiff University School of Medicine, was among the experts saying the UK’s decision to restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine was a good one.
“It seems like a sensible decision based on the evidence we have so far of a probable causal link between the AZ vaccine and these very rare thrombotic side effects that have been noted,” he told Thursday at TBEN. However, he noted that the reluctance to vaccinate was now “clearly a concern”.
“It will be important to continue to push the message that vaccination saves lives and has already saved thousands of lives in the UK,” he added.
Meanwhile, Andrew Pollard, professor of pediatric infection and immunity at the University of Oxford, who developed the vaccine with AstraZeneca, said in a statement Wednesday that “safety has been our priority throughout. vaccine development … and we are reassured. to see that safety oversight continues under the close scrutiny of regulators and public health authorities as the vaccine is rolled out worldwide. “
Continental European countries are likely to have a harder time convincing their citizens that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, given the many doubts and disputes over the vaccine and supplies to date.
After a second review of the shot, the European Medicines Agency also ruled on Wednesday that the vaccine was safe, but said it had found a “possible link” between jab and very rare cases of blood clots. However, the EMA has not imposed any age limit on beneficiaries.
The agency’s executive director, Emer Cooke, sought to reassure the public, noting that researchers were still trying to find out what was causing a small number of rare but serious clots, including sinus thrombosis cerebral venous (CVST).
The question “clearly demonstrates one of the challenges posed by large-scale vaccination campaigns when millions of people receive these vaccines, very rare events can occur that have not been identified in clinical trials,” he said. she declared.
EU leaders met on Wednesday evening but were unable to agree on a coordinated strategy for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
To date, four European countries have completely stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine, including Denmark and the Netherlands, while many other countries, including Germany, France and Spain, have imposed restrictions on the vaccine. age on vaccine.
Most cases of blood clots identified by regulators have occurred in women under the age of 60 within two weeks of shooting. However, officials are still examining specific risk factors that may have contributed to the phenomenon.
Unusual blood clotting with low blood platelets will be added as a “very rare” side effect to the vaccine product information, the EMA added.