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Health chiefs will decide TOMORROW whether under-40s will get alternative to AstraZeneca’s Covid jab

Professor Anthony Harnden said officials were discussing making the change

Officials may decide whether under-40s should also be offered an alternative to AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in a crunch meeting tomorrow.

Professor Anthony Harnden, who sits on No10’s jab advisory panel, said dwindling Covid cases had left officials needing to review current recommendations.

Britain’s medical chiefs ruled in April that under-30s should be offered either Pfizer or Moderna’s jab because of rare blood clots linked to AstraZeneca’s shot.

Health bosses insist the UK-made vaccine is safe for almost everyone and that the risk of getting the complication is tiny.

The decision was only made because the benefits of the jab are not as clear-cut to younger adults, who face a vanishingly small risk of dying from Covid.

But amid plummeting cases across the UK, officials have been forced to recalculate whether the benefits of being jabbed still clearly outweigh the risks for under-40s — who are also at low risk from the virus.

Professor Harnden told MPs on the Science and Technology Committee today that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) was ‘looking at this group very carefully’.

He also hinted officials would only press ahead with the recommendation under-40s are given alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine if they were confident in supplies.

Delaying the immunisation roll-out could ‘push infection rates up’ and lead to ‘many, many more deaths and hospitalisations’, Professor Harnden warned. MPs were also told that the roll-out would be expanded to thirty-somethings within weeks.

In the same briefing today, another top medic claimed women face no greater risk of suffering the rare blood clots linked to AstraZeneca’s vaccine. 

Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines, said rates were ‘very similar’ between genders and figures may have appeared skewed because more women work in the NHS and social care — where the jab was mainly deployed. 

The Government wheeled out a series of graphs comparing the risk of falling ill with Covid compared to the threat of developing blood clots after getting the AZ vaccine in various age groups. In low Covid levels, every 100,000 vaccines prevent 0.8 ICU admissions from coronavirus in people under 30 but 1.1 people will suffer blood clotting after having the jab, making the threat higher than the virus itself. The benefits were more obvious for adults in their thirties at the time

The Government wheeled out a series of graphs comparing the risk of falling ill with Covid compared to the threat of developing blood clots after getting the AZ vaccine in various age groups. In low Covid levels, every 100,000 vaccines prevent 0.8 ICU admissions from coronavirus in people under 30 but 1.1 people will suffer blood clotting after having the jab, making the threat higher than the virus itself. The benefits were more obvious for adults in their thirties at the time

 

Professor Harnden said: ‘We are actually meeting twice a week at the moment and almost all the discussions have been about this (alternative vaccine for the under-40s).

‘So we will be meeting tomorrow and we will be deciding about whether we leave that decision to the following week or whether we take it this week.’

He added: ‘We are looking at this group very carefully. 

‘If we see infection rates rise then potentially there is a public health imperative to carry on with the vaccine programme.

‘This is against, of course, supply and availability of the vaccines, and we are given information — though it’s commercially confidential — about how much vaccine that we have and what we can offer people.

‘So, for instance, if we do make a decision for the under-40s that will delay the immunisation programme.

‘[It] therefore may push infection rates up and therefore, from a public health perspective, may end up getting many, many more deaths and hospitalisations because of that.’

Justifying their recommendation to offer under-30s an alternative to AstraZeneca’s vaccine, British health chiefs wheeled out a series of graphs comparing the risk of falling ill with Covid compared to the threat of developing blood clots after getting the AZ vaccine in various age groups. 

Data at the time suggested that, in low Covid levels, every 100,000 jabs prevent 0.8 ICU admissions from coronavirus in people under 30 but 1.1 people will suffer blood clots, making the threat to younger adults slightly higher than the virus itself. 

The benefits were more obvious for adults in their thirties at the time but the data was based on an infection rate of around 20 cases per 100,000 people every week. The UK’s current rate stands at around 20.

The MHRA — UK’s drug regulator — has been looking closely at people developing blood clots that appear alongside low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia) because this appears to have emerged as an unusual pattern among people who have had the vaccine.

There have been 168 cases linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine so far in Britain, out of millions of doses dished out. 

Experts think the clots occur when the vaccine — which contains a piece of the virus — trigger the immune system to start attacking platelets, which then form blood clots.

Doctors are most concerned about a condition called CVST, which is a blood clot in a vein in the head that can trigger strokes if left untreated.

Several EU countries also restricted the vaccine for certain age groups, despite the risk being tiny and the jab proven to save lives. Denmark took the controversial move to stop using it completely. 

Regulators in the US have found the same condition appearing in people who have had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which works in the same way as AstraZeneca’s.  

More than 33.8million Britons have now received a first dose of the Covid vaccine, and 13.2million have got a first dose. 

Q&A: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT COVID VACCINES AND BLOOD CLOTS

IS THERE ANY PROOF THE JAB CAUSES THE BLOOD CLOTS?

Scientists have repeatedly insisted there is no proof yet that coronavirus vaccines cause the extremely rare complication — blood clots occurring alongside low platelet levels.

But officials are still investigating the link — found in recipients of both AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson’s vaccines — and can’t rule it out completely.

DO SCIENTISTS HAVE A THEORY FOR WHAT MAY BE THE LINK?  

Experts are stumped as to why the vaccines may be triggering blockages in very rare cases.

But one explanation gaining ground is that it may be down to an over-reaction in the immune system, making the body attack its own platelets — tiny chunks of cells inside blood that build clots to stop bleeding when someone is injured. 

Experts believe the jab could cause the body to produce antibodies – normally used to fight off viruses – which mistake platelets in the blood for foreign invaders and attack them.

To compensate, the body then overproduces platelets to replace those that are being attacked, causing the blood to thicken and raising the risk of clotting. This then causes levels of platelets to fall.

The researchers say the phenomenon is similar to one that can occur in heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), when sufferers take a drug called heparin.   

WHAT SYMPTOMS DO THEY CAUSE?

The EMA said symptoms can strike up to three weeks post-vaccination.

British regulators say the complication tends to occur four days after people first get jabbed. 

Symptoms of the two blood clots can include: 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Swollen legs
  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Severe or persistent headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Seizures 
  • Skin bruising beyond the site of injection

WHICH VACCINES ARE BRITAIN USING? AND HOW EFFECTIVE ARE THEY?

Pfizer-BioNTech

Approved: December 2, 2020

Doses dished out: 10.8million*

Doses ordered: 40million

Phase 3 trials data

  • Efficacy at blocking symptoms: 95%
  • Efficacy against severe illness: 100%

Real world data

  • Efficacy at stopping transmission: 66% 
  • Efficacy at blocking symptoms (one dose): Between 57 and 61% 
  • Efficacy against severe illness: 80%

How it works: mRNA vaccine – Genetic material from coronavirus is injected to trick the immune system into making ‘spike’ proteins and learning how to attack them.

Oxford-AstraZeneca

Approved: December 30, 2020

Doses dished out: 15.8million*

Doses ordered: 100million

Phase 3 trials data

  • Efficacy at blocking symptoms (one dose): 70% 
  • Efficacy against severe illness (one dose): 100%

Real world data

  • Efficacy at stopping transmission: 70% 
  • Efficacy at blocking symptoms: Between 60 and 73%
  • Efficacy against severe illness: 80% 

How it works: Adenovirus vaccine – To make the vaccine, the common cold virus is genetically modified to trigger it to make the Covid spike protein — which the virus uses to invade cells.

When the vaccine is administered the patient’s immune system attacks the spike protein by building antibodies, priming it to fight off Covid before it leads to an infection.

Moderna

Approved: January 8, 2021

Doses dished out: Zero

Doses ordered: 17million

Phase 3 trials data

  • Efficacy at blocking symptoms: 94.1% 
  • Efficacy against severe illness: 100%

Real world data

  • Efficacy at stopping transmission: Not known 
  • Efficacy at blocking symptoms: 90%** 
  • Efficacy against severe illness: Not known

How it works: mRNA vaccine – both Moderna’s and Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccines work in the same way.

* the latest data goes up to March 21 

** data taken from a US study, joint with Pfizer. Other real world data comes from Public Health England in the UK 

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