Suspending AstraZeneca over ‘blood clot’ fears for under-50s would slow Britain’s roll-out by 75%

Britain’s Covid vaccination drive could slow by at least 75 per cent if AstraZeneca‘s jab is banned in people under the age of 50, according to leaked figures which could demolish the Government’s targets for inoculating young people.

Vaccine delivery figures from Scotland that were leaked earlier this year show that the British-made vaccine makes up three-quarters of the country’s jab supplies — but it is at the centre of growing doubts. 

The UK’s medical regulator is considering suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine in younger Brits while it probes its link to deadly brain clots spotted in dozens of vaccinated people, with a decision expected as soon as today.

European medical regulators will announce the conclusions of their investigation at 3pm, with Germany having already temporarily banned its use for under-60s and France making the same controversial move for under-55s. 

But the MHRA, which polices the safety of all vaccines in Britain, has yet to offer any updated guidance. It is said to be considering halting its use in under-50s, which could throw lockdown-easing plans into disarray. 

Boris Johnson plans to lift restrictions fully by June 21 as part of the last stage of his roadmap, but this relies on jabbing the remaining 21million unvaccinated adults, the vast majority of whom are under 50, by the summer. 

Officials have put the AstraZeneca jab at the heart of the country’s rollout and the leaked delivery schedule reveal the Government is expecting it to make up 75 per cent of its Covid vaccine supplies over the next two months. 

The document, published on the Scottish Government’s website in January and quickly taken down, showed Britain was anticipating about 29.4m doses of AstraZeneca’s jab between April and the first week of June. For comparison, officials expected just 8.5m of Pfizer’s vaccine in the next two months and 1m of the new Moderna jab, which is being rolled out for the first time in Wales today.  

Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Government’s vaccine advisory group, the JCVI, admitted pausing the AstraZeneca jab could threaten Britain’s roadmap out of lockdown. 

He said today: ‘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, getting the balance right, getting vaccines coming through… getting the risk-benefit right for people coming forward.’ 

One Tory MP told MailOnline that halting the jab would ‘certainly put things back’, adding: ‘Clearly it would have very adverse consequences because AstraZeneca is the workhorse of the vaccination programme.’

However, the UK inoculation programme could be bolstered if two other promising jabs under review are given approval by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the coming weeks. 

The chief scientist behind the US-developed Novavax vaccine, which Britain has secured 60million doses of, has said he expects it to be given the green light this month and rolled out in May. All of the Novavax supplies on order will be manufactured within the UK under a new Government deal announced last week, which could drastically speed up its distribution. 

A separate vaccine made by American pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson, which uses the same type of technology as AstraZeneca’s but is administered via a single injection, is slated for a summer rollout. Because people given the J&J vaccine don’t need a 12-week follow-up appointment, it means ministers don’t have to reserve supplies for second doses and can unleash them all at once.

Health watchdogs in the UK and EU are currently probing the link between the AstraZeneca jab and a rare brain clot, known as CVST, or cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which can cause a stroke. 

Leaked delivery schedules reveal the Government is expecting AstraZeneca’s vaccine to make up 75 per cent of its Covid jab supplies over the next two months. The document, published on the Scottish Government’s website in January and quickly taken down, showed Britain was anticipating about 29.4m doses of AstraZeneca’s jab between April and the first week of June. By comparison, officials expected just 8.5m of Pfizer’s vaccine in the next two months and 1m of the new Moderna jab, which is being rolled out for the first time in Wales today

More than 31million Britons have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine in the UK. Boris Johnson plans to lift lockdown fully by June 21 as part of the last stage of his roadmap out of restrictions, but this relies on jabbing the remaining 21million unvaccinated adults, the vast majority of whom are under 50, by the summer

More than 31million Britons have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine in the UK. Boris Johnson plans to lift lockdown fully by June 21 as part of the last stage of his roadmap out of restrictions, but this relies on jabbing the remaining 21million unvaccinated adults, the vast majority of whom are under 50, by the summer

More than 31million Britons have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine in the UK. Boris Johnson plans to lift lockdown fully by June 21 as part of the last stage of his roadmap out of restrictions, but this relies on jabbing the remaining 21million unvaccinated adults, the vast majority of whom are under 50, by the summer

The risk of dying from Covid-19 is significantly higher than the rate of CSVT blood clots, which haven't even been definitively linked to the vaccines (Based on fatality estimates from Cambridge University and CSVT occurrences in Germany)

The risk of dying from Covid-19 is significantly higher than the rate of CSVT blood clots, which haven't even been definitively linked to the vaccines (Based on fatality estimates from Cambridge University and CSVT occurrences in Germany)

The risk of dying from Covid-19 is significantly higher than the rate of CSVT blood clots, which haven’t even been definitively linked to the vaccines (Based on fatality estimates from Cambridge University and CSVT occurrences in Germany)

People are still being encouraged to have the AstraZeneca jab and yesterday Boris Johnson (pictured exercising today) said it was ‘very very important’ the public go for their inoculations

In other coronavirus developments:

  • A 24-year-old carer today became the first person in Britain to get Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine as the roll-out was expanded in Wales – but England will have to wait another fortnight to use the jab; 
  • The SNP could save Boris Johnson from a growing Tory revolt over domestic vaccine passports as Labour hardened its opposition to the documents;
  • No10 refuses to rule out needing proof of jabs to enter non-essential shops, leading to fears you’ll need vaccine passport to buy clothes;
  • Boris promises to make it ‘as easy as possible’ for families to travel abroad this summer, with £5 on-the-spot Covid tests set to be allowed instead of gold-standard £100 PCR swabs;
  • Lockdown easing could be sped up because vaccines are working, says the scientists who correctly forecast second wave – as SAGE doomsday predictions are criticised for being ‘too pessimistic’;
  • Britain’s daily Covid deaths fall by two-thirds in a week with 20 new victims – while cases plunge by 40% to 2,379;
  • One in three Covid survivors are diagnosed with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues within six months of recovering, major study finds; 
  • Generation of home-schooled children lacked ‘discipline and order’ in lockdown says Gavin Williamson as he backs mobile phone ban in schools.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is the current chair of the Health Select Committee, today said there is ‘urgency’ over the MHRA review.

Number 10’s scientific advisers have already hinted that supplies of Moderna’s jab could be reserved for younger people, if the MHRA pressed ahead with a German-style ban. Professor Adam Finn, of the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), said the fears were being taken ‘very seriously’ and the UK is ‘walking a tightrope here between the need for speed but also the need for clarity’.

Don’t panic on Oxford jab: String of experts urge people to keep risks in proportion, as reassurance operation begins 

Experts have today rushed to defend the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with one expert saying aspirin is probably more dangerous, as the MHRA investigates claims it is linked to a rare brain blood clot.

Sage adviser Professor Calum Semple urged people to continue accepting the AstraZeneca jab.

Speaking to LBC radio this morning, he said: ‘I’ll take myself, I’m 53, my risk of death from Covid is about one in 13,000, for me it’s a no-brainer, I need to have the vaccine.’

He later added: ‘This vaccine is safe. What do I mean by safe? You can look right, look left, look right again cross a road, it’s safe to cross because you don’t see any cars (but) you can trip, you can stumble.

‘Nothing is risk-free, but is the vaccine safe? I would say yes.’ 

And yesterday he told Channel 4 News: ‘This has been done out of exceptional caution and the big story still is that for a middle-aged, slightly overweight man, such as myself, my risk of death is one in 13,000 – the risk of this rare clot, which might not even be associated with the vaccine, is probably one in a million.

‘So I’m still going to say it’s better to get the vaccine than not get the vaccine and we can pause and take time to carefully consider the value for children because they’re not at risk of death from Covid.’

He added: ‘If you’ve been called for the vaccine then you’re in an age group that is very likely to benefit from the vaccine. So the bottom line is if you’ve been called for the vaccine I would urge you to take the vaccine.’

And Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases, told Sky News the vaccination programme should continue until more is known on blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said people in their ’20s, 30s, 40s and 50s’ are at risk of severe Covid ‘and there is an argument for vaccination to continue in those individuals because the rate of this blood clot disorder is extremely low, although slightly elevated against background levels’.

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Another JCVI member today said vaccinations for under-50s should be paused while the regulator investigates the risk of blood clotting.

Dr Maggie Wearmouth opened the possibility to ‘slowing things down’ until Britain’s home-grown shot is branded completely safe. She said: ‘The issue is about safety and public confidence. We don’t want to cover anything up that we feel that the public should be knowing.’

Last night Oxford University halted trials of its coronavirus vaccine in children until the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) concluded on its safety in younger people, with formal advice expected in as early as today.

Scientists stress cases of CVST — the medical term for the complication — are extremely rare and have only been spotted in 30 recipients of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in Britain out of a total 18million. This equates to around one in 600,000 people. But experts say it may be more common in young women, who are known to be most at risk of the clots.

More than 31.6million adults have now received their first dose, putting Number 10 on course to meet its target of offering a vaccine to all over-50s by April 15.

However, the Government has not factored in a potential ban on using AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the next phase of the roll-out. The jab is currently the main weapon in the country’s arsenal, with Pfizer’s supply being rationed for top-ups.

Moderna’s vaccine was deployed for the first time in Britain today but ministers have only bought 17million doses — enough for 8.5million people. Leaked supply projections suggest No10 anticipated it would get around 160,000 doses every week next month, leaving serious questions about whether the UK will be able to make a dent in the next phase of the roll-out.

Today the Conservative former health secretary and current chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee Jeremy Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there is ‘urgency’ in the MHRA’s approach to making a decision on the AstraZeneca jab.

He 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.’

Asked if the MHRA would come to a fair and balanced decision, he said: ‘I think the regulator has got a lot of credit in the bank because what authorities need in a pandemic is to act fast and also to maintain trust and the MHRA which is our independent regulator was the first regulator in the world to approve a vaccine for Covid and in terms of trust they made that big call in January to space out the doses which has saved thousands of lives.

‘So I think people will listen to their advice when it happens today or tomorrow and I think they will be sensibly British and keep calm and carry on and follow that advice.

‘There may or may not be a causal link but even then it is the balance of risk and what we know is that the risk of Covid killing you is much higher for older people and it looks like the risk of this type of blood clot is also lower for older people.

At least 10 countries in Europe, joined by Germany last night, have put some kind of restriction on the use of AstraZeneca's jab, mostly opting to give it only to over-60s because the CSVT cases seem to be happening in younger adults

At least 10 countries in Europe, joined by Germany last night, have put some kind of restriction on the use of AstraZeneca's jab, mostly opting to give it only to over-60s because the CSVT cases seem to be happening in younger adults

At least 10 countries in Europe, joined by Germany last night, have put some kind of restriction on the use of AstraZeneca’s jab, mostly opting to give it only to over-60s because the CSVT cases seem to be happening in younger adults

WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE SUSPENDED THE ASTRAZENECA VACCINE? 

NOT BANNED

  • United Kingdom
  • Austria
  • Bulgaria 
  • Cyprus
  • Estonia
  • Ireland 
  • Italy 
  • Luxembourg
  • Portugal
  • Romania 
  • Spain
  • Slovenia 

BANNED FOR UNDER 55s

BANNED FOR UNDER-60s

BANNED FOR UNDER-65s

  • Finland
  • Lithuania 
  • Sweden

BANNED FOR UNDER-70s

BANNED FOR ALL AGES

  • Denmark
  • Holland
  • Latvia
  • Norway 
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‘So that risk profile may change depending on age but there is tremendous public confidence in the vaccine programme.

‘People can see that because we have done it faster than anywhere else in Europe, our seven day death rate is down to 30 a day compared to nine times that in France, so I think people understand that the vaccine programme is saving lives but they also understand that advice changes as we get to learn more about these vaccines and so I think they will listen very carefully to the advice and follow it.’ 

European Medicines Agency (EMA) bosses will address the mounting fears in a 3pm briefing today. Regulators last month insisted there was no evidence to justify banning the jab for younger people.

Addressing Britain’s next steps in the roll-out, Dr Wearmouth warned ministers threatened fracturing public trust if they pressed ahead with the next stage of the roll-out without being in full command of the evidence. ‘We don’t want people to lose confidence and the vaccine to stay in fridges,’ she told the Telegraph. ‘But we don’t want people to feel they have been falsely reassured either.’

Dr Wearmouth said the JCVI has drafted its recommendations for the second stage of the roll-out for those aged 18-49, but said this could now be revised before being submitted to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Other leading experts today leapt to defend the AstraZeneca vaccine — which is the mainstay of the UK’s roll-out.

Former chief executive of the MHRA, Sir Kent Woods, said he has ‘no reservations’ about the jab because the risks of Covid are ‘much higher’. SAGE adviser Professor Calum Semple said he is ‘not worried one little bit’ about the fears and that it was a ‘no-brainer’ that he, as a 53-year-old, should get the jab.

One Cambridge scientist downplayed calls to pause the roll-out, saying he would ‘certainly come forward for that vaccine at the moment’. 

Last night it was revealed Oxford University had paused its vaccine trial on children amid concerns around blood clotting.

The university said the decision to pause its trial was precautionary and that there were no health issues among any of the youngsters involved.

The university began studying the vaccine in five-to-17-year-olds in February, with the aim of eventually scaling up the trial and testing it in 200 people. 

Researchers have stopped recruiting new volunteers and it is not clear how many children have already been given a dose.

Elle Taylor, 24, today became the first person to receive the Moderna jab in the UK. She said it would help her care for her grandmother 'properly and safely'

Elle Taylor, 24, today became the first person to receive the Moderna jab in the UK. She said it would help her care for her grandmother 'properly and safely'

Elle Taylor, 24, today became the first person to receive the Moderna jab in the UK. She said it would help her care for her grandmother ‘properly and safely’

DOES THE ASTRAZENECA VACCINE CAUSE BLOOD CLOTS? WHY ARE HEALTH CHIEFS SCARED?

DOES THE ASTRAZENECA JAB CAUSE BLOOD CLOTS?

Scientists insist there is no proof yet that AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine causes blood clots in the brain, known as CVST.

But officials can’t rule out the link completely – with scientists suggesting it could be triggered by the jab triggering the immune system to attack its own platelets – small cells the body uses to clot wounds. 

SO WHY ARE HEALTH CHIEFS SCARED?

Germany spotted one in 90,000 cases – and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it was occurring at a rate of 1 in 100,000 in under-60s and that rates were slightly higher than expected

But Britain spotted only one in 600,000 – based on 30 cases out of 18.1million doses up until March 24.

IS IT REALLY OCCURING MORE THAN AVERAGE?

Scientists say evidence is shifting and that a link is becoming ‘clear’, in words of the EMA’s vaccines chief yesterday. 

But critics say it is incredibly hard to disentangle the risk because CVST is also more common in young women – blurring the lines between which cases may have been sparked by the jabs and which would have happened anyway.

WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE ALREADY RESTRICTED THE JAB TO OLDER PEOPLE?

Germany last week temporarily banned the AstraZeneca vaccine for under-60s, while France took the same controversial move for under-55s.

Iceland has restricted it to over-70s, while Finland, Sweden and Lithuania all say it can only be given to adults over the age of 65.

Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Latvia have all suspended the jab completely, while regulators probe the link further.

WILL BRITAIN FOLLOW SUIT?

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which polices the safety of vaccines in the UK, could stop under-30s from getting the jab.

Sources told Channel 4 news that regulators were likely to press ahead with a German-style age-restricted ban.

But Government insiders told the Daily Telegraph that they were unlikely to impose any age-based ban.

The MHRA has yet to offer any updated formal guidance but it could be forced into action if Europe’s equivalent body announces tougher action at a press conference this afternoon.

IF THE JAB IS PROVEN TO CAUSE THE CLOTS, WILL THEY BAN IT COMPLETELY?

Regulators are unlikely to ban the jab completely even if it is linked to blood clots because it still offers protection against the virus.

Scientists say the benefits far outweigh the risks for older people, who are more at risk of hospitalisation of death if they catch the virus.

But say the equation is ‘more complicated’ for younger people who are less at risk from the virus.

Numerous experts lined up yesterday to downplay fears, saying the risk of dying from Covid is up to 35 times higher for young adults than from CVST, the medical term for the clots.

When age-specific bans of the AstraZeneca jabs roll-out have been imposed, they have still seen it offered to older age groups.

 

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Oxford is waiting for more information from the UK’s regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, before restarting the study. 

Britain’s study of AstraZeneca’s vaccine on children was also going to give 200 youngsters a placebo. An AstraZeneca spokesman told the WSJ the company was awaiting the outcomes of the regulatory reviews and declined to comment further.

Dr Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, sounded a note of caution and made clear ‘we do need to get to the bottom of this’.

This morning he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that concerns over the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab are being taken ‘very seriously’ and ‘very thoroughly’ investigated.

He said: ‘What stands out about them is that we see thrombosis, including thrombosis in the cerebral veins, all the time, but we don’t normally see them in association with a low platelet count — which is a small blood cell which is involved in blood clotting — and so that makes them stand out and makes us think that this is something a little bit different and out of the norm.’

Dr Finn said this meant they wanted to understand why this was being caused and whether it is linked to the vaccine.

Told there had been 30 cases of this kind of blood clot and seven deaths amid more than 18 million people receiving the jab, Mr Finn said it ‘could potentially’ affect the rollout of the vaccine.

He said: ‘Those figures quoted were up until March 24 and I think we’ll hear shortly what’s happened subsequent to that in terms of numbers of cases, but we can expect there will have been more in the interim.’

Asked if different vaccines could end up being reserved for certain groups as more vaccines come on stream, owing to fears over blood clots in younger people, he 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, getting the balance right, getting vaccines coming through… getting the risk-benefit right for people coming forward.’

He urged people being offered the vaccine at the moment to take it, saying the ‘risk-benefit is very strongly in favour of receiving the vaccine’.

Dr Finn said people could expect more information from regulators within 24 hours.

Yesterday, he told BBC Newsnight: ‘We are walking a tightrope here between the need for speed but also the need for clarity and scientific certainty about what’s going on and of course the public wants to know, so very important issues that need to be addressed urgently.’   

The Prime Minister, who has himself had the AstraZeneca vaccine, yesterday called on the nation to get their jab during a visit to the Anglo-Swedish plant in Macclesfield.

He said the ‘best thing’ people can do is ‘look at what the MHRA say’, adding: ‘Their advice to people is to keep going out there, get your jab, get your second jab.’

Sage adviser Professor Calum Semple echoed the PM’s clarion call and urged people to continue accepting the AstraZeneca jab.

Speaking to LBC radio this morning, he said: ‘I’ll take myself, I’m 53, my risk of death from Covid is about one in 13,000, for me it’s a no-brainer, I need to have the vaccine.’

He later added: ‘This vaccine is safe. What do I mean by safe? You can look right, look left, look right again cross a road, it’s safe to cross because you don’t see any cars (but) you can trip, you can stumble.

‘Nothing is risk-free, but is the vaccine safe? I would say yes.’ 

And yesterday he told Channel 4 News: ‘This has been done out of exceptional caution and the big story still is that for a middle-aged, slightly overweight man, such as myself, my risk of death is one in 13,000 – the risk of this rare clot, which might not even be associated with the vaccine, is probably one in a million.

‘So I’m still going to say it’s better to get the vaccine than not get the vaccine and we can pause and take time to carefully consider the value for children because they’re not at risk of death from Covid.’

He added: ‘If you’ve been called for the vaccine then you’re in an age group that is very likely to benefit from the vaccine. So the bottom line is if you’ve been called for the vaccine I would urge you to take the vaccine.’ 

Professor Sir Kent Woods, the former chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), told LBC radio he has ‘no reservations’ about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said: ‘The risks of Covid are much higher.

‘The reason it is so difficult to be certain whether or not there is a cause-and-effect relationship, even in younger people, between the vaccine and these thrombotic events, these clotting events, is that there are such clotting events occurring in the background anyway.

‘It’s not an unknown event.’

He added: ‘Covid itself – the infection itself — is known to be associated with a substantial increased risk of blood clots of various kinds.

‘At a time when the population has got lots of Covid going around, it’s very difficult to know what the actual background rate of these clotting events is without the vaccine.

‘We can say I think, that if there is a connection, it’s a very, very rare one and this is why I am not concerned about the fact that relatives of mine have had the AstraZeneca vaccine in their 40s.’

And Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases, told Sky News the vaccination programme should continue until more is known on blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said people in their ’20s, 30s, 40s and 50s’ are at risk of severe Covid ‘and there is an argument for vaccination to continue in those individuals because the rate of this blood clot disorder is extremely low, although slightly elevated against background levels’.

Professor Gupta said vaccinating children was done to ‘cut down transmission in the community in the main’ and therefore the decision to stop the study on them until more was known was ‘good practice’.

Asked if he would take the jab, he said: ‘I think that’s on balance at the moment – there’s still transmission of Covid, and there is a risk to all of us of being infected, particularly as the economy is being opened up and society’s opening up, we are at risk of getting severe infection.

‘So I would certainly be going forward for that vaccine in the current situation, because I’m in that age group.

‘So yes, I think it should be continued.’ 

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