Health officials are becoming increasingly worried that younger people will reject Covid jabs as concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to grow. A total of 30 cases of rare blood clots have been linked to the jab in the UK, resulting in seven deaths. Eighteen million doses of the vaccine have been administered so far.
It is feared that younger women will be particularly anxious and may refuse to accept the vaccine because two-thirds of patients with these types of blood clots are female.
The link with blood clots, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, CVST, has led Germany and the Netherlands to halt giving the vaccine to people under 60. However, the European Medicines Agency has said there is “no evidence” to support such restrictions, while the World Health Organization has also urged countries to continue giving the jab.
Professor Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, said that it was not uncommon to get clusters of rare events purely by chance. “But once you find that cluster in one population and it then crops up in another – such as previously in the German and now in the English – then I think the chances of that being a random association is very, very low,” he said.
“Clearly more work needs to be done, but I think the evidence is shifting more towards it being causally related at the moment.” However, he added that the risks of taking the AstraZeneca vaccine were still far outweighed by the risks of not getting it.
This last point was backed by June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), who said the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 infection and its complications continue to outweigh any risks of getting it. “The public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so.”
Support for AstraZeneca was also provided yesterday by Kate Bingham, who led the UK Vaccine Taskforce. In a Financial Times interview , she called the company “heroes” for picking up Oxford University’s experimental vaccine and turning it into a low-cost jab that could be administered globally.
“I do feel sorry for AstraZeneca. They’ve been caught up in geopolitics,” she added. “But, hopefully, history will look back and treat them kindly and say, actually, they stepped up to provide a safe, effective drug that is easy to deploy for the world.”
The controversy has emerged as another developer, Novavax, said it hoped to have millions of jabs ready for use in the UK within weeks. It said it expected to grow 2,000 litres of its NVX–CoV2373 vaccine, ready to be put into vials and sent to clinics once it has been approved by Britain’s medicine regulators.
The news will be welcomed as Britain’s vaccine drive has plateaued due to “lumpy” supply issues, according to health secretary Matt Hancock. Novavax aims to deliver 60m doses to the UK this year. “We have just started the first batches that will be suitable for human use,” said Martin Meeson, president of Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, which is making British doses at its Billingham plant. “You get hundreds of thousands to millions of doses per batch. And as we get up and running, we should be taking a batch off at least every two weeks.”
Novavax said its current vaccine has 96.4% efficacy against the Wuhan strain, 86% against the UK variant, and 55% for the South African strain, and added that it is planning another clinical trial this year using an amended vaccine focused on the South African variant.
It has also been revealed that in the week ending 19 March, 10,311 deaths from all causes were registered in England and Wales, the lowest total for that week since 2014. Several reasons have been proposed: the current fairly mild weather; lockdown restrictions reducing road casualties; and reduced flu infections because people are staying apart from each other, saving thousands of lives. In addition, there is still no sign of increased deaths from cancer and other serious conditions, despite disruptions to hospital services, while some vulnerable people who died in the first wave of Covid would otherwise have survived another year and could be dying now.