UK to offer under-40s alternative to AstraZeneca vaccine

Precautionary move reflects low levels of COVID-19 in the UK and the availability of other vaccines, experts say.

European and UK medicine regulators have concluded there is a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare cases of blood clots [File: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters]

The United Kingdom will offer adults under the age of 40 an alternative to AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot following a recommendation on Friday from its panel of vaccine advisors.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said on Friday its new advice, which was issued amid persistent fears the vaccine may cause rare blood clots in a small minority of recipients, reflected low levels of COVID-19 infection in the UK and the availability of other jabs made by Pfizer and Moderna.

Previously, JCVI’s advice was only for people under 30 to be offered an alternative vaccine.

“As COVID-19 rates continue to come under control, we are advising that adults aged 18–39 years with no underlying health conditions are offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, if available and if it does not cause delays in having the vaccine,” said Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 Chair for JCVI.

“The advice is specific to circumstances in the UK at this time and maximises use of the wide portfolio of vaccines available.”

Rare clotting incidents

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot, developed in collaboration with the UK’s University of Oxford, has been linked to reports of rare blood clots in some recipients that also appear with low levels of platelets in the blood.

The risk of clotting appears to be higher in younger adults, and some countries have advised the shot be given only to older people.

The UK’s independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has found an incidence of 17.4 clots per million doses of the vaccine among people aged 30 to 39 years old, compared with 10.5 clots per million doses overall.

There have been 2.1 deaths from the clots per million doses reported overall, rising to 4.5 deaths per million doses for those aged between 30-39.

June Raine, the MHRA’s head, said the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine “continue to outweigh the risks for the vast majority of people”.

“The balance of benefits and risks is very favourable for older people, but is more finely balanced for younger people.”

UK vaccine drive ‘still on target’

A senior health official confirmed the JCVI’s move would not affect the UK’s rapid immunisation drive. The government plans to offer a first dose of vaccine to all adults by the end of July.

“I can say to you that on current plans, our vaccine supply schedule will support the change offered by the JCVI without limiting the speed and scale of the vaccine rollout,” England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam told a news conference.

“I do expect that we are still on target to offer a first dose to all adults by the end of July.”

Nearly 35 million adults in the UK have received a first dose of vaccine to date and more than 16.2 million have been fully inoculated.

Meanwhile, new data published on Friday from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England has fallen for a fourth straight week.

Transmission rates have however dropped less steeply compared with the rapid drops seen in the two previous weeks, the ONS said.

It said an estimated one in 1,180 people in England had COVID-19 in the week ending May 2, compared to one in 1,010 a week earlier.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies