BRITS In their 30s could be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine due to the “plausible link” with rare blood clots.
Officials have already decided that those under the age of 30 should receive a jab from Pfizer or Moderna, instead.
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But members of the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) have said they will continue to review the data before the rollout reaches those in their 30s.
Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chairman of the JCVI, said safety data will be examined "in scrupulous detail".
On Thursday, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We're looking at this modelling data on a regular basis as we look at the safety data.
“I don't think our guidelines for the well under-30s will change, but we will certainly evolve the programme according to the epidemiology that we're seeing at the time."
He said any link with blood clots was a "very, very rare, extremely rare safety signal".
Investigations from regulators and a range of experts concluded the evidence is “firming up” that some 79 cases of blood clots – 19 fatal – were caused by the jab.
However, it is still not certain.
If the link is proven, the data shows the risks are miniscule – four in every one million people who receive the vaccine could get a blood clot, and just one in a million will die.
Thrombosis UK has also said taking the contraceptive pill makes you two or three times more likely to develop a clot – but this is considered perfectly safe.
Prof Harnden said scientists should have “much more clear” data by the time the programme hits the 30s age group.
For example it is still not clear if the rare blood clots do occur more in younger people – there is only a hint of this in the data, but it could come down to a bias due to the type of people offered the jab.
It will be several weeks before thirty-somethings are invited for their jab, giving regulators and scientists time to assess the risks in that age group.
Fellow JCVI member Prof Jeremy Brown said any future recommendation on jabs for those in their 30s would depend partly on the Covid infection rate.
If coronavirus cases increase, the risk of someone in their 30s getting Covid, potentially seriously, goes up.
This would tip the balance more in favour of giving the AstraZeneca vaccine.
If the virus rates were under control – amid the easing of lockdown over the spring – the balance could tip in favour of giving alternative vaccines to the under 30s, Prof Brown suggested.
He told The Telegraph: "We're going to start vaccinating phase two healthy adults, starting with the 40 to 50-year-olds, and then we'll go to the 30 to 40-year-olds.
"When we are approaching that point we'll need to think about this a little bit more to be absolutely sure at what point in that age cut-off – given the situation we are facing at that time, and any more data that comes through on this rare complication, because more data will come through – then that might alter the age range."
Those in their 40s, who are next in line to receive the vaccine from around May onwards, will still receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, stressed that the benefits of the jab "spectacularly outweigh the risks" for those in their 40s.
Despite blood clot fears, a poll by YouGov carried out for The Times found that 75 per cent of Brits considered the Astrazeneca jab safe.
Among those aged 18-24 nearly two thirds said the jab was safe, while 68 per cent of 25 to 49-year-olds said the same.
Why is the cut-off currently at 30 years old?
Regulators decided on Monday that, on the balance of benefit and risk, those under 30 years old should receive a different vaccine.
Professor Wei Shen, chairman of the JCVI said the recommendation was “out of the utmost caution” rather than because of “any serious safety concerns”.
There have been questions raised around how someone in their 30s, especially aged 31 or 32, can be confident in the jab if their peers just a couple of years younger will be offered a different one.
Prof Shen said at the MHRA briefing on Wednesday every country makes their own decisions when taking into account the risk of a next wave, the amount of vaccine supplies, and the values of its own people – which varies greatly between nations.
He told the briefing: “For somebody who is 31 or 32 I think they have to make their own decision as to what they want to do about vaccination.
“We would still say that the balance is in favour of being vaccinated because of the risk from Covid-19 and the protection the vaccine offers.”
European regulators have not advised restricting the vaccine to only older people, despite its safety committee concluding “these clotting disorders are very rare side effects of the vaccine".
Given that many European countries are experiencing a third wave of Covid, with lockdowns across the continent, it may have been expected that bans on younger people getting the jab would loosen up.
However, Italy will only be giving it to those over 60, Belgium over 55 and over 60 in Spain, although these rules may be temporary.
Some countries – Germany and France – are also reportedly considering giving alternative second doses to people who have had the first dose of AstraZeneca.
People in the UK have been told to get their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine when invited.
A Government scientific adviser said yesterday getting a coronavirus vaccine is safer than driving or cycling to work.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours, said having a Covid-19 jab is “actually one of the safer things you do in the day”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “Something like 30 or 40 people drown in the bath every year, something like 1,000 people die falling down the stairs, something like 200 die from choking on their breakfast, and that’s many, many more deaths than we get from these vaccines so actually taking the vaccine is actually one of the safer things you do in the day, it’s definitely safer than cycling or driving to work. So these are incredibly rare events.”
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