AstraZeneca’s vaccine may also be restricted for under-40s when Britain’s immunisation drive moves down to younger age groups, it was claimed today.
Medical watchdogs will assess data on the jab’s links to extremely rare blood clots in ‘scrupulous detail’ in order to paint a clearer picture on the exact risk-benefit ratio.
They have already advised people aged 18 to 29 be given an alternative to the British-made jab because their odds of falling seriously ill with Covid are so small that the benefits of AstraZeneca’s do not clearly outweigh the potential clot risks.
Analysis of the UK vaccine rollout has found that younger people appear more prone to clotting after vaccination but there is no set cut-off age. Experts have told MailOnline instead there is a ‘gradual age gradient of risk’.
One member of the JCVI – which advises No10 on vaccines – said the group would ‘need to think about this a little bit more’ before making the same recommendation for people in their 30s.
Statisticians insist the risk of under-30s developing blood clots from AstraZeneca’s jab is so tiny that if Wembley stadium was filled with people in the age group, only one would be struck down.
For older adults, the risk of blood clots is even smaller – but their risk of dying from Covid is much higher, meaning the risks versus benefits swings heavily in favour of vaccination.
The move to recommend under-30s get a different jab does not mean it is unsafe for young people, with neither the UK’s drug regulator or the EU’s ordering the jab to be banned for certain age groups.
But both acknowledge cases of blood clots from the life-saving jab appear to be occurring slightly more often in younger adults.
EU nations – who have been embroiled in a stand-off with AstraZeneca for months – have defied guidance based on statistical analysis showing the jab’s benefits outweigh the risks of the vast majority of adults.
Belgium, Germany and Italy have halted the jab for under-60s. Berlin’s top medical body last night even advised younger adults already given AstraZeneca’s jab should get a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s – taking the polar opposite stance to British counter-parts.
Germany has also become the first country on the continent to allow second doses to be mixed and matched. Regulators there have green lit plans for under-60s given their first dose of the AstraZeneca jab to get the Pfizer or Moderna one as a follow up.
The UK is currently trialling this dosing regimen, and scientists say it is likely to be safe and effective, but results are not expected until later in the year.
Amid fears the guidance could scupper the UK’s vaccination roll-out, which is heavily reliant on AstraZeneca’s jab, ministers yesterday sought to dismiss blood clot fears. Health Secretary Matt Hancock compared the risk of blood clots overall – one in 250,000 – to taking a long-haul flight.
Britons are already cancelling appointments for AstraZeneca’s vaccine and asking for alternatives in light of the blood clot links, GPs have warned.
Doctors say they have also been bombarded with complaints of headaches in people given the first dose. But polls show 75 per cent of the public still consider the jab to be safe.
A fit and healthy 34-year-old who was left in intensive care with blood clots after being given the AstraZeneca jab, has also sought to downplay fears.
Mohammed Choudhury, from Poplar in east London, told MailOnline: ‘Despite my experience I would still advise anyone to have the jab. I just want to raise awareness of the signs to look for in the extremely rare cases where blood clots developed as a side-effect.’
Britons still back the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine – as 75 per cent tell pollsters (pictured) they consider it to be safe
Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chairman of the JCVI, said the public ‘should remain confident’ in the vaccine programme despite the changes to guidance.
He stressed to The Telegraph that the link with blood clots was a ‘very, very rare, extremely rare safety signal’. However, he said the new advice that those under 30 should be offered an alternative to AstraZeneca – is unlikely to change.
Professor Harnden said his team was poring over data for other groups and that they will have a ‘much more clear’ view a by the time the programme moves to thirtysomethings.
Fellow JCVI member Professor Jeremy Brown told the newspaper: ‘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.’
It comes after poll data showed Britons still back AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, with 75 per cent saying they consider it to be safe.
This graphic shows the seating plan of Wembley Stadium which holds 90,000 people. If it were full and 10,000 people squeezed onto the pitch, there would be 100,000 people – the same number as Professor Spiegelhalter’s risk groups. If all of them were 20-29 and had the AstraZeneca jab, one would be expected to get a blood clot, top left. While if they were all 50-59, no blood clots would be expected. The panels on the right show the risk of serious Covid if they all refused the vaccine
The Government yesterday 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 prevents 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
Outrage at AstraZeneca boss’s ‘silence over safety worries around Covid jab’
The boss of AstraZeneca was criticised last night for failing to defend his company’s vaccine as its safety was questioned.
Pascal Soriot, who is currently staying in Australia with his family, was accused of not properly explaining the benefits of the jab to the public as it was linked to rare blood clots.
Regulators have stressed that the benefits far outweigh the risks but they have recommended alternatives for people aged under 30.
But EdenTree Investment Management, a top AstraZeneca investor, said Mr Soriot had failed to properly defend the jab in public and should be doing so more forcefully.
Ketan Patel, a fund manager at the firm, said the chief executive ‘hasn’t been that public and being halfway around the world doesn’t give the right signal or message’.
‘Perhaps it is right to say where is the chief executive in terms of articulating the healthcare benefits? It’s OK to work remotely but if you are the boss of a multi-billion pound healthcare company with a vaccine, I can see why people would be thinking ‘why isn’t Pascal here’,’ he said.
It comes after another top shareholder, Royal London, rallied to Mr Soriot’s defence saying his efforts during the pandemic have been ‘heroic’.
Mr Patel told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Pascal has done hugely well, the company is delivering good growth, but that success is being overshadowed by negative sentiment over the vaccine.
‘If we were grading the PR effort, they could do better.
‘If you look at the data, and see that the chances of getting a blood clot with this vaccine is about four in one million, compared to four in 10,000 for the contraceptive pill, that perspective needs to be highlighted.’
It comes after another top shareholder, Royal London, rallied to Mr Soriot’s defence, saying his efforts during the pandemic have been ‘heroic’.
Insiders at Astrazeneca have previously stressed that Mr Soriot is working European business hours and keeps in regular contact with colleagues and clients via videoconferencing.
They said current restrictions mean he would still have to do much of his work remotely even if he was in the UK.
However, the company has said he plans to return as soon as travel restrictions are lifted.
Last night an Astra spokesman said: ‘Travel restrictions and local lockdowns mean it makes little sense to be travelling right now, particularly given that many countries require quarantine.
‘Mr Soriot will continue to empower his team of experts and remain in regular contact with operational leaders in the many sites across the world.’
The results by YouGov show a drop of two percentage points since March.
But it still ranks close to opinions of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which 78 per cent dubbed safe, The Times reports.
Nearly two thirds of those aged 18 to 24 felt the vaccine was okay to use, while just 13 per cent of all people polled deemed the AstraZeneca jab unsafe.
However, GPs warned yesterday that patients have started cancelling appointments for the vaccine and asking for alternatives.
Dr David Triska, a GP partner at Witley and Milford Surgeries in Surrey, told MailOnline: ‘We have now been inundated with consultations relating to headaches and people defaulting their AstraZeneca appointment to try and get another vaccine. We are reassuring them the balance of risk is in favour of receiving the vaccine.’
The comments were echoed by the Mail On Sunday’s resident GP, Dr Ellie Cannon, who revealed she’d received lots of ‘requests for brain scans from well people’ who are concerned they may have developed the brain clots.
She said there had been ‘mass panic’ following yesterday’s announcement by British regulators, tweeting: ‘Lots of calls from patients thinking they’ve had a blood clot or wanting to be checked for one…… Have we handled this reporting correctly? Storm for GPs and A&E colleagues…’
The Government has launched a media blitz on the back of the JCVI’s ruling yesterday as officials scramble to shore up public confidence in the vaccine.
Matt Hancock warned people under the age of 30 that refusing a coronavirus vaccine because of blood clot fears could ‘ruin your life’ due to the risk of catching the disease and developing ‘debilitating’ long Covid.
And Boris Johnson told the public the jab was ‘safe’ urging everyone who had booked an appointment to show up.
Even Britons who have been struck down with the extremely rare blood clots have called for calm.
Mr Choudhury, a married financial services worker, said he thought he had pulled a muscle on a 5km run two weeks after having the jab.
‘But within days I was in hospital and they told me the blood clots might reach my brain,’ he told MailOnline.
Despite being told he will need to take blood thinners for the next six months, Mr Choudhury still strongly believes people should have the vaccine.
A new study by Public Health England found the rollout has prevented 10,400 deaths in over-60s since the first jab was given to Margaret Keenan on December 8.
PHE compared the number of Covid-19 deaths until the end of March with the expected number had millions of over-60s not been immunised.
They estimated the vaccine had stopped 9,100 deaths in those aged 80 and over, 1,200 in 70 to 79 year olds and 100 in 60 to 69s.
Mr Hancock said: ‘That’s more than 10,000 families who haven’t suffered the loss of a loved one.
‘The science is clear – vaccines save lives. All three of our approved vaccines have been deemed safe and effective by our world-class independent medicines regulator.
‘The figures published today show why it’s so vital people get their second dose too. When people get the call, they should get the jab.’
On Wednesday UK medical regulators concluded the AstraZeneca vaccine was a ‘reasonably plausible’ cause of 79 cases of unusual blood clots, including 19 deaths. The NHS has now cancelled thousands of appointments for those aged 18-29 who were booked in to get their first dose of the AZ jab.
Most under-30s are not yet eligible but those who are, such as unpaid carers, will be rebooked with a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
The new advice from medical regulators has led to fears younger adults could shun the jab.
However, Mr Hancock said vaccinations are ‘the right thing for them, and the right thing for their loved ones, and ultimately the right thing for the country’.