Good morning. As Channel 4 News revealed on Monday, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has been reviewing its advice about the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine following concerns about its links to a very rare blood clotting condition, and an announcement may be coming soon. On the Today programme this morning Jeremy Hunt, the chair of the Commons health committee, said a decision was needed as a matter of “urgency” – although he also stressed that in the past the MHRA had always acted quickly. He told the programme:
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.
Currently the MHRA is advising people in all age groups to take the AstraZeneca vaccine if it is offered to them – although last month, in response to concerns about five cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) – the extremely rare blood clot in the brain – occurring in the 11 million people who had then had the vaccine, the MHRA did issue some precautionary guidance. Since then more cases of CVST have occurred, but they remain a minuscule proportion of the total number of people vaccinated.
As my colleague Sarah Boseley reports in her overnight story, some UK drug safety experts believe there could be a causal link between the AstraZeneca jab and CVST. But they say vaccination programmes must continue, with risk mitigation for women under 55. Sarah’s story is here.
This morning Prof Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said that figures up to 24 March showed 30 cases of CVST and seven deaths in the UK amongst more than 18 million people given the AstraZeneca jab. He said more up-to-date figures were due soon.
Most of these CVST cases are occurring in women under the age of 65 and Finn said this could lead to certain vaccines being used for certain age groups. Asked if younger people could be limited to certain vaccines, he told the Today programme:
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.
Some European countries have decided to limit the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to older people. In Germany it is only given to the over-60s, and in France to the over-55s.
Finn 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”.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: The ONS publishes a report on the impact of Covid on students.
9.30am: Plaid Cymru launches its election manifesto for the Senedd election.
2pm: Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, holds a press conference.
Afternoon: Boris Johnson is out on a visit, where he is expected to speak to the media.
And Sir Keir Starmer is visiting Plymouth today.
Politics Live has been mostly about Covid for the last year and I will be covering UK coronavirus developments today, as well as non-coronavirus Westminster politics. For global coronavirus news, do read our global live blog.
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