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The UK and European medicines regulators and the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (UKJCVI) have made statements about the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

You can read the statements here:

What does this mean?

The regulators and independent expert advisers have reviewed reports of extremely rare – 4.4 in a million people – cases of blood clotting events with very low red blood cell counts – mainly in the brain but also in other parts of the body – that have occurred after the AstraZeneca vaccine, which coincided with having the vaccine. Both regulators say this is NOT evidence of a causal link. (Even if it were, these events are so rare and the risk factors for them have occurred mostly in people with a history of medical issues linked to this type of outcome that the benefits still far outweigh the risks).

It should be noted that the occurrence of blood clots in people infected with Covid can be well over 10,000 times as high as the 4.4 per million of these events.

The most important news from today is that the vaccine safety system is working, that the vaccine still remains safe for almost all people and purely as a precaution because there is yet no proof some populations at risk of clots are being advised to have other vaccines. (See below).

What happens next?

More investigation is underway, and as a precaution, some types of people are being given the advice we would expect in these circumstances:

  • Some populations (those with a history of clots and similar conditions, and those under 30) will be offered a different vaccine. That’s why you should speak to your doctor if you have a history of blood clots.
  • As a further precaution, they recommend that anyone who had major blood clots and low platelet (red blood cell) levels after the first dose of the vaccine should not have the second dose of the AstraZeneca Vaccine. If this applies to you, then discuss with your doctor.
  • As a final precaution, if you have persistent new headaches more than four days after the first dose then it is advisable to call 111 for advice.

I stress that if you haven’t had these side effects, then you should come forward, as I will, for your second dose when invited. I’ve now had my first dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and look forward to having my second. The latest news does not change my view of the vaccine and the benefits still far outweigh the risks. I will take the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Why under-30s?

These events are very rare – 4.4 in every million, and while the mechanism for this is uncertain there does seem to be a possibility that the occurrences may be more frequent the younger people are.

  • While the chance of any person receiving the vaccine experiencing a blood clot with low platelets is extremely small, because the risk of severe Covid in the under 30s with no underlying illness is also comparatively small the UKJCVI feel as a precautionary measure it is appropriate for those in this age group to be offered an alternative Covid vaccine when their turn comes for their first dose of a vaccine.

What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk and the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a Covid infection.

What are the implications for the vaccine?

It’s important to emphasise that adverse events happen with all medicines, and vaccines are no exceptions. Safety surveillance is vital in picking up and assessing signals that emerge from the data. There were some cases of severe anaphylaxis with the Pfizer vaccine early in the UK rollout. These were openly investigated, guidance subsequently updated, and the rollout continued with high public confidence. Hopefully, we will see similar outcomes here in the UK with the Oxford AstraZeneca product, and also that European countries can get their vaccine administrations back on track. The harm from withdrawing the vaccine altogether is almost certainly going to be much greater than the harm from rare adverse events.

The UK vaccination programme has saved at least 6000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life for us all. More than 20 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine have been given to date. The news today should give us reassurance that the regulators have made safety their primary concern.

Jim McManus

Director of Public Health

Hertfordshire County Council