Government advisers say concerns over the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab are being taken “very seriously” and “very thoroughly” investigated, before an imminent announcement by the vaccines regulator.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) are to give updates on Wednesday at 3pm on their investigations into whether the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is directly causing rare brain blood clots. They may recommend that distribution of the vaccine to younger people be paused if they establish a causal link with rare blood clots.
Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol who also sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the UK’s vaccination programme must continue if the country was to emerge from lockdown. He urged people being offered the jab to take it, saying the “risk-benefit is very strongly in favour of receiving the vaccine”.
Asked if different vaccines could end up being used for certain groups as more vaccine types come on stream, Finn told BBC Breakfast: “That’s certainly possible. We are seeing another vaccine coming in [Moderna], and further vaccines are approaching licensure, and I know that the UK has made contracts for quite a wide range of different vaccines.
“As time goes forward, we will have much more flexibility about who can be offered what. On the other hand, we do need to keep the programme going if the plan to open things up and allow things to get back to normal is to proceed without another wave of the pandemic coming through. So it’s quite a tricky balancing act here.”
For the more than 18 million UK adults who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, 30 rare blood-clotting cases have been reported and seven deaths. For older or clinically vulnerable people, who are far more likely to become severely ill or die from coronavirus, the benefits of the jab outweigh the very small risk of clots.
Finn also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the reports of blood clots were being investigated “very seriously” and “very thoroughly”.
He said the reported clots presented an “unusual constellation” of features of thrombosis, including thrombosis in the cerebral veins, in association with low platelet counts. “That makes them stand out and makes us think that this is something a little bit different and out of the norm.”
Dr Maggie Wearmouth, another JCVI member, told the Telegraph the jab’s rollout should be paused for younger people until its safety was “certain” in order to maintain public trust and confidence. “Perhaps slowing things down, not rolling out phase 2 at this stage … until we’re absolutely certain,” she said.
A trial of the vaccine in children aged six to 17 was halted on Tuesday as a precautionary measure by the team at Oxford University until the regulator had taken a view on the jab’s possible association with rare forms of blood-clotting events.
The MHRA has said that while it carries out its review people should continue to get the jab if they are invited to do so.
The Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the programme there was “urgency” over the MHRA concluding its investigations.
Hunt, who chairs the health select committee, said: “I think there is urgency; I think the one thing you can’t say about the MHRA is that they act slowly – they have been very, very fast and fleet of foot throughout this pandemic.
“But I think people do understand that this is a new virus, these are new vaccines, there is no medicine that is 100% safe, and that’s why you have to look at these very difficult balances of risk.”