Covid-19 UK: Concerns over AstraZeneca’s jab causing blood clots are being taken ‘very seriously’

Fears that AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine may cause deadly brain blood clots are being taken ‘very seriously’, one of the Government’s jab advisers insisted today.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), said the combination of thrombosis and low platelet counts is ‘a little bit different and out of the norm’.

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

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.

Concerns centre around a rare brain blood clot, which spooked European health chiefs into suspending the jab for younger people. Germany has temporarily banned the vaccine for under-60s.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will hold a 3pm briefing today, with speakers including EMA executive director Emer Cooke and EMA safety committee chairwoman Dr Sabine Straus.

But 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.

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.’

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.

Professor Finn hinted supplies of Moderna’s jab — which was deployed for the first time in Wales today — could be reserved for younger people, amid doubts over the availability of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

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’. Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology said he thinks ‘it should be continued’.

It comes as:

  • 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.
People are still being encouraged to have the AstraZeneca jab and yesterday Boris Johnson (pictured) said it was 'very very important' the public go for their inoculations

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

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

More than 31million Britons have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine in the UK

More than 31million Britons have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine in the UK

More than 31million Britons have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine in the UK

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)

Oxford 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.

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.

Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and who also sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said concerns over the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab are being taken "very seriously" and "very thoroughly" investigated

Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and who also sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said concerns over the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab are being taken "very seriously" and "very thoroughly" investigated

Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and who also sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said concerns over the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab are being taken ‘very seriously’ and ‘very thoroughly’ investigated

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.’   

Yesterday the Prime Minister, who has himself had the AstraZeneca vaccine, 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.’   

Oxford University has today paused trials of its coronavirus vaccine in children while regulators probe the jab's link to rare blood clots. Pictured: A 16-year-old getting the jab

Oxford University has today paused trials of its coronavirus vaccine in children while regulators probe the jab's link to rare blood clots. Pictured: A 16-year-old getting the jab

Oxford University has today paused trials of its coronavirus vaccine in children while regulators probe the jab’s link to rare blood clots. Pictured: A 16-year-old getting the jab

A spokesperson for the prestigious university said the move was precautionary and that there was no health issues among any of the youngsters involved in the trial. Pictured: A young person getting the vaccine

A spokesperson for the prestigious university said the move was precautionary and that there was no health issues among any of the youngsters involved in the trial. Pictured: A young person getting the vaccine

A spokesperson for the prestigious university said the move was precautionary and that there was no health issues among any of the youngsters involved in the trial. Pictured: A young person getting the vaccine

Marco Cavaleri, vaccines head at the European Medicines Agency, said there is a ‘link’ between AstraZeneca jab and clots

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.’

A TIMELINE OF THE ASTRAZENECA BLOOD CLOT SAGA 

March 7: Austria suspended the use of one batch of the vaccine after a woman, 49, who had been given it died of a ‘severe coagulation disorder’ and a 35-year-old developed a blood clot in her lung.

March 11: Authorities in Denmark, Norway and Iceland suspended all use of the vaccine following a 60-year-old woman in Denmark died of a blood clot after the reports emerged in Austria. Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke said: ‘It is currently not possible to conclude whether there is a link.’

March 11: European Medicines Agency’s safety committee began an investigation into the cases. It confirms 30 cases of ‘thromboembolic events’ – clots – were reported after five million vaccines in the EEA.

March 12: Thailand suspended the use of the vaccine off the back of European worries. Bulgaria also stops using it.

March 12: The European Medicines Agency, Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, Health Canada, the World Health Organization and AstraZeneca itself, all spoke out to defend the vaccine and say there is no proof it’s linked to blood clots. 

March 13: The Netherlands, Italy and Ireland temporarily stopped using the vaccine as fears about the cases in Austria and Denmark snowballed.

March 14: Germany and France suspended the vaccine.

March 15: Spain, Portugal and Slovenia suspended use of the jab. 

March 15: Professor Andrew Pollard, the Oxford expert who ran the clinical trials of the jab, insisted safety data are ‘reassuring’ and said ‘clearly those blood clots still happen’ as often as they would in unvaccinated people.

March 16: World Health Organization officials met to discuss the issue. European Medicines Agency is still investigating.

March 17: Scientists accuse governments of banning the jab on political grouns. AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been a flashpoint in the past.

March 18: European Medicines Agency holds a press conference on its investigation and rules that the vaccine is ‘safe and effective’. It said there wasn’t enough evidence to rule out a link to blood clots, but also not enough to prove one. On balance, it would be safer for countries to keep using the vaccine to stop Covid. The investigation would continue.

March 18: Germany, France and Italy resume use of the jab after the EMA’s conclusion. 

March 19: Finland suspends the jab after finding blood clot cases in its own population.

March 19: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands and Spain all confirm they will start using the jab again. Scandinavian countries did not follow suit and kept the ban in place.

March 22: A study is published that found public trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine collapsed in Europe at the time of the blood clot saga. A YouGov survey found more than half of people in Germany, France, Italy and Spain believed the jab was unsafe.

March 30: Germany bans the vaccine for people under the age of 60 after officials said they had found 31 cases of CSVT after 2.7million vaccinations. 

April 2: UK regulators announce a total of 30 blood clots, 22 in the brain, have now been discovered in Britons vaccinated with the AZ jab.

April 5: UK regulators begin reviewing their guidance amid concern the jab is considerably more likely among younger people.  

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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.’

Several European countries have limited the AstraZenca jab to older people or even suspended its use entirely following clotting in a tiny amount of cases. 

One of the European drug regulator’s senior officials yesterday claimed there is now a ‘clear’ link between the jab and CVST — a brain blockage that can lead to a stroke.

Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccines at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said that CVST — a brain blockage that can lead to a stroke — was occurring more often than expected in younger people.

Mr Cavaleri admitted that the body was still baffled about how the jab may trigger the rare complication.

EMA officials are already probing the link between the vaccine and CVST, which is more common in young women. Watchdog bosses are expected to make a formal announcement tomorrow.  

Despite his comments, Mr Cavaleri’s agency has repeatedly insisted AstraZeneca’s jab is safe and the benefits outweigh any risks. 

Last week it slapped down Germany for suspending its use in under-60s, arguing there was ‘no evidence’ to support age-based restrictions.

But at the same time, the watchdog paved the way for a potential U-turn, warning that the rate of the complication did appear to be slightly higher than expected in vaccinated under-60s. 

Experts across the board say the evidence is now ‘shifting’ and that the jab is likely – in extremely rare cases – to cause the brain blockage. 

Britain’s medical regulator may also impose a German-style ban of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, it emerged last night. 

Sources told Channel 4 it could stop under-30s getting the jab – which is the main one being deployed in Britain. 

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

It came amid reports that thousands of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are being wasted in France following a ‘wave of panic’ triggered by its suspension.

And it was also claimed that EU officials are confident they will have enough doses to immunize the majority of their citizens by the end of June. 

Britain is aiming to have offered a first dose to all adults by the end of July.

The World Health Organization still maintains there is ‘no link for the moment’ between the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots.

Rogerio Pinto de Sa Gaspar, director of regulation and prequalification at the WHO, told a briefing today: ‘The appraisal that we have for the moment, and this is under consideration by the experts, is that the benefit-risk assessment for the vaccine is still largely positive.’

He added: ‘For the time being there is no evidence that the benefit-risk assessment for the vaccine needs to be changed and we know from the data coming from countries like the UK and others that the benefits are really important in terms of reduction of the mortality of populations that are being vaccinated.’

WHAT IS CVST? AND HOW COULD IT BE LINKED TO ASTRAZENECA’S JAB?

Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) is an extremely rare type of blood clot in the brain.

It occurs when the vein that drains blood from the brain is blocked by a blood clot, resulting in potentially deadly bleeding on the brain.  

Symptoms can quickly deteriorate from a headache, blurred vision and faintness to complete loss of control over movement and seizures. 

John Hopkins University estimates it affects five in a million people in the US every year, which would suggest 330 patients in Britain suffer from the condition annually.

According to the university, it can affect patients with low blood pressure, cancer, vascular diseases and those prone to blood clotting. Head injuries can also trigger the condition. 

Britain’s regulator said CVST is so rare they aren’t even sure how common it is in the general population.

Although there isn’t any evidence that the blood clots are developing because of vaccinations, some academics have a theory that it is the immune reaction making it happen.

Research teams in Germany and Norway claim the blood clotting issue may be caused by the jab, in very rare cases, making the body attack its own platelets.

Platelets are tiny chunks of cells inside blood that the body uses to build clots to stop bleeding when someone is injured. But they can also make unwanted clots.

Experts from Oslo and Greifswald University 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.

They admitted they ‘don’t know why this is happening’.

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

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Scientists insist the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh any risks for elderly people — who are most at risk of hospitalisation or death if they catch the virus.

But they warn that the picture is ‘more complicated’ for young people. 

Experts estimate the risk of dying of Covid for 25 to 44-year-olds is 0.04 per cent – or one in 2,500.

For comparison, the rate of CVST cases seen in Germany — which originally banned the jab for over-60s over the same blood clot fears — is around one in 90,000.

It is not clear how many younger adults will suffer the blood clots naturally — but officials admit the risk is higher in women under the age of 50.

Officials are working round-the-clock to disentangle the statistical risk, analysing the background rate of CVST as well as the reported rate among people given AstraZeneca’s vaccine. 

‘In the next few hours, we will say that there is a connection, but we still have to understand how this happens,’ Mr Cavaleri told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.

‘Among the vaccinated, there are more cases of cerebral thrombosis… among young people than we would expect.’

Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said the results of the EMA’s  review of the AstraZeneca vaccine were expected tomorrow.

But France is already wasting thousands of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concern over the jab, even as the country battles against a third wave.

Medics have reported people turning down the inoculation in droves, despite it being a key part of the country’s planned route out of the pandemic.

This is because President Emmanuel Macron has performed a series of U-turns over the highly effective vaccine, with critics suggesting the Brexit-critical leader had challenged the jabs safety and effectiveness to attack the UK.

European capitals have been told the EU has now secured enough doses for them to inoculate the majority of their citizens by the end of June, according to a briefing note seen by Bloomberg.

The forecast, however, assumes that some 70million AstraZeneca doses will be used, which could be put in doubt if regulators limit their use.

It also shows that some member states – including Austria, Croatia and the Czech Republic – are expected to lag behind.

EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, who is leading jabbing efforts, has previously claimed they will have the capacity to deliver enough doses to hit ‘herd immunity’ by July 14, which is Bastile Day in France.

Amid the MHRA’s safety review of the jab, two senior sources told Channel 4 news that the data is still unclear on the risks of the vaccine.

But the insiders said there are growing arguments to justify offering younger people — below the age of 30 at the very least — a different vaccine.

Both sources, however, emphasised their support for the Oxford jab and their concerns that any restriction of its roll-out could damage public confidence. 

Dr June Raine, the agency’s chief executive, said: ‘The benefits of Covid vaccine AstraZeneca in preventing Covid infection and its complications continue to outweigh any risks and the public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so.’

She added: ‘Our thorough review into these reports is ongoing. 

‘We are asking healthcare professionals to report any cases they suspect to be linked with Covid vaccination via the Covid yellow card website.’

The head of the EMA, Emer Cooke, has previously stressed there is ‘no evidence’ to support restricting the use of the jab across the continent.

She added a link between unusual blood clots in people who have had the jab is ‘not proven, but is possible’, but added that the benefits far outweigh risks.

The World Health Organization has also urged countries to continue using the ‘safe and effective’ jab, which offers a backdoor to get the world out of the pandemic.

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

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi pictured receiving his Covid jab. He said today they are expecting the first doses of the long-awaited Moderna jab to arrive this month

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi pictured receiving his Covid jab. He said today they are expecting the first doses of the long-awaited Moderna jab to arrive this month

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi pictured receiving his Covid jab. He said today they are expecting the first doses of the long-awaited Moderna jab to arrive this month

But confusion erupted over Moderna's supply today, after Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed the first batch of doses arrived yesterday

But confusion erupted over Moderna's supply today, after Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed the first batch of doses arrived yesterday

But confusion erupted over Moderna’s supply today, after Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed the first batch of doses arrived yesterday

MOST EU MEMBERS WILL VACCINATE MAJORITY OF CITIZENS BY JULY 

Most European Union countries will have vaccinated the majority of their citizens by July, a leaked briefing note revealed today.

It predicted supplies would pick up in the coming days, allowing countries including the Germany, France and Spain to jab more than 50 per cent of their populations by the deadline.

But it also showed some members – like Croatia and Bulgaria – are expected to lag further behind.

For comparison, Britain expects to have offered every citizen a first dose no later than July 31.

The forecast, seen by Bloomberg, also expects some 70million inoculations with the AstraZeneca vaccine to be carried out between April and June – despite warnings its use may be suspended for younger age groups. 

EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, who is leading jabbing efforts, has previously claimed they will have the capacity to deliver enough doses to hit ‘herd immunity’ by July 14, which is Bastile Day in France. 

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Scientists have shifted their position in recent weeks, to indicate other vaccines against Covid may be better for young people. 

Professor Neil Ferguson — the scientist whose grim modelling that 250,000 may die without restrictions scared ministers into imposing Britain’s first lockdown last March — said the jab may not be suitable for younger Britons, if a link is proven. 

‘In terms of the data at the moment, there is increasing evidence that there is a rare risk associated, particularly with the AstraZeneca vaccine,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday.

‘But it may be associated at a lower level with other vaccines, of these unusual blood clots with low platelet counts. It appears that risk is age related, it may possibly be — but the data is weaker on this — related to sex.

‘And so the older you are, the less the risk is and also the higher the risk is of Covid so the risk-benefit equation really points very much towards being vaccinated.

‘I think it becomes slightly more complicated when you get to younger age groups where the risk-benefit equation is more complicated.’ 

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, has also warned there may be a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots.

He told the Today programme it is ‘not uncommon’ to get a cluster of rare events 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.’

First Moderna doses will be given out in Wales TODAY in boost to Britain’s vaccine rollout

The first doses of the Moderna Covid vaccine will be given to patients in Wales from today.

Jabs will be given out at West Wales General Hospital in Carmarthen in what has been hailed as ‘another key milestone’ in the fight against coronavirus. 

Five thousand doses of the vaccine were also sent to vaccination centres in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area on Tuesday. 

The US-made vaccine is due to be rolled out in Scotland in the coming days with England giving its first shots before the end of April. 

The UK has bought 17million doses of the Moderna jab – enough for 8.5million people. People will initially receive 100,000 jabs and the number of doses administered will increase significantly in May and June. 

Phase three test results suggest efficacy against Covid was 94.1 per cent, and efficacy against severe Covid was 100 per cent. The jabs were manufactured in Switzerland and finished in Spain before being sent to the UK.

The news comes amid calls from government scientists to  pause vaccinations for the under-50s while the regulator investigates the risk of blood clotting from the AstraZeneca jab.

Dr Maggie Wearmouth, a member of the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), opened the possibility to ‘slowing things down’ until the MHRA determines Britain’s home-grown shot is completely safe. 

Last night Oxford University halted trials of its vaccine in children until the MHRA probe publishes its conclusion, which is expected in the coming days.

More than 31million adults have now received their first dose, putting the Government on course to meet its target of vaccinating all over-50s by April 15. 

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‘[But] the chance of dying if you don’t have the vaccine is many times greater than the risk of dying from CVST after the AstraZeneca vaccine, even if it does turn out, as I suspect it will, that this link is causal.’

Although there isn’t any evidence that the blood clots are developing because of vaccinations, some academics have a theory that it is the immune reaction making it happen.

Research teams in Germany and Norway claim the blood clotting issue may be caused by the jab, in very rare cases, making the body attack its own platelets.

Platelets are tiny chunks of cells inside blood that the body uses to build clots to stop bleeding when someone is injured. But they can also make unwanted clots. 

Experts from Oslo and Greifswald University 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. 

They admitted they ‘don’t know why this is happening’.

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

It comes as No10’s vaccine minister today revealed the long-awaited Moderna Covid vaccine will be dished out in Britain within the next two weeks.

Nadhim Zahawi said the first batch of the jab — approved by regulators in January — is set to arrive in the third week of this month, with ‘more volume’ expected in May.

Ministers had promised Moderna’s vaccine, which uses mRNA technology such as Pfizer’s, would arrive by the spring. Britain has ordered 17million doses.

But confusion erupted over Moderna’s supply today, after Nicola Sturgeon revealed the first batch of doses arrived yesterday. If Scotland’s First Minister is telling the truth, it means the UK is currently sitting on thousands of vaccines that are proven to work.

Announcing the impending arrival of the Moderna vaccine, Mr Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: ‘It will be in deployment around the third week of April in the NHS and we will get more volume in May as well.

‘And of course more volume of Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca and we have got other vaccines. We have got the Janssen — Johnson and Johnson — vaccine coming through as well.

‘So I am confident that we will be able to meet our target of mid-April offering the vaccine to all over-50s and then end of July offering the vaccine to all adults.’

Despite Mr Zahawi saying the vaccine won’t be deployed until later this month, Ms Sturgeon said Scotland had already received its first batch of the jab.

Scotland is due to receive more than one million of the 17million doses ordered by the UK.

The First Minister also said that the doses have already been factored into forward planning for the vaccination programme, and will be delivered over the coming months.

Addressing today’s coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, she said: ‘The arrival of this first batch doesn’t mean that we are able to accelerate the vaccination programme.

‘The speed of vaccination is already taking account of the expected Moderna supplies.

‘Nevertheless the fact that we now have three vaccines in use is clearly very welcome and it does give us additional security of supply, which is important.’ 

The risks of the AstraZeneca jab are so small… yet the gains are so great, writes Professor DAVID WERRING

As a clinical neurologist, I must balance on a daily basis the risks and benefits of interventions in often complex, high-risk situations.

While these are specialised decisions about the net benefit of a particular course of action, they are the stuff of medicine in general – and of course of life, too.

And it is just such a judgment that is preoccupying the minds of both scientists and the public following the news yesterday that the European Medicines Agency’s head of vaccines Marco Cavaleri now believes there is a ‘clear’ link between AstraZeneca‘s Covid vaccine and blood clots.

As a clinical neurologist, I must balance on a daily basis the risks and benefits of interventions in often complex, high-risk situations, writes PROF DAVID WERRING

As a clinical neurologist, I must balance on a daily basis the risks and benefits of interventions in often complex, high-risk situations, writes PROF DAVID WERRING

As a clinical neurologist, I must balance on a daily basis the risks and benefits of interventions in often complex, high-risk situations, writes PROF DAVID WERRING

This follows weeks of reports of unusual blood clots detected in the brains of some of those given the Oxford vaccine – a small number, but enough to lead some countries, including Germany, France and Canada, to restrict who can be given the jab.

Little wonder that the low thrum of anxiety has now grown into more serious concern that could potentially undermine the rollout of the so far hugely successful vaccine programme.

This alarm is understandable, particularly against the backdrop of a year in which the world has been turned upside down.

Vaccine chiefs are treading a fine line between acknowledging concern over the latest worrying headlines and keeping us focused on the benefits of a vaccine they see as the best chance of freeing us from a virus with its own proven catastrophic consequences, among them – ironically – the chance of developing potentially fatal blood clots, symptoms affecting around one in four who contract severe Covid-19. Of course, blood clots are not always inherently bad: indeed, we would be in a great deal of trouble without them.

Regulators are looking at reports of unusual blood clots detected in the brains of some of those given the Oxford vaccine – a small number, but enough to lead some countries, including Germany, France and Canada, to restrict who can be given the jab

Regulators are looking at reports of unusual blood clots detected in the brains of some of those given the Oxford vaccine – a small number, but enough to lead some countries, including Germany, France and Canada, to restrict who can be given the jab

Regulators are looking at reports of unusual blood clots detected in the brains of some of those given the Oxford vaccine – a small number, but enough to lead some countries, including Germany, France and Canada, to restrict who can be given the jab

Little wonder that the low thrum of anxiety has now grown into more serious concern that could potentially undermine the rollout of the so far hugely successful vaccine programme

Little wonder that the low thrum of anxiety has now grown into more serious concern that could potentially undermine the rollout of the so far hugely successful vaccine programme

Little wonder that the low thrum of anxiety has now grown into more serious concern that could potentially undermine the rollout of the so far hugely successful vaccine programme

Comprised of platelets, red blood cells and a mesh-like protein called fibrin, their usual function is to prevent bleeding by helping to seal off a wound. The problems we associate with blood clots occur when one forms in a blood vessel when it shouldn’t, leading to all kinds of potentially serious and sometimes fatal health conditions.

In our arteries – vessels that carry blood away from the heart into vital organs – they cause heart attacks and strokes.

In our venous system (the vessels that carry slower moving deoxygenated blood usually back to the heart), the most common problems are deep vein thrombosis from a clot in the leg, and pulmonary embolism from a clot in vessels carrying deoxygenated blood to the lungs.

In my work I sometimes see a rare type of stroke caused by a clot in veins that drain blood from the brain, a condition known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). It is this latter kind that has been reported in a small number – around 30 – of the estimated 18million Britons who had received the Oxford vaccine by March 24. The great majority of these vaccine-associated CVSTs have been in young females, and, worryingly, there has been a high rate of fatality.

We don’t have the data to explain why women have been disproportionately affected yet but, in cases of CVST not connected to vaccines, about two-thirds involve females, which can probably be attributed to associations with the contraceptive pill and pregnancy.

Like many doctors, my first instinct was that, given the low number of reports, it could be nothing more than coincidence.

However, distinctive features have emerged in the reported cases which have generated concern about a link to the vaccine, not least that patients had low levels of blood platelets and unusual anti-Platelet Factor 4 antibodies, suggesting an immune reaction. These antibodies are usually found in people who have been given the blood thinner Heparin and gone on to develop something called Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, a condition in which platelets are reduced but blood clots are more likely to form.

It raises the question of whether the vaccine triggered an immune response which included the production of these antibodies and a related, heightened chance of clotting. Yet it’s also important to state here that an association is not the same thing as a direct causal link, for which researchers need a great deal of complex supporting evidence.

There is also much we don’t know about these reported cases in terms of any shared characteristics among those involved. More research is needed before we can definitively say that all of the reported brain blood clots were caused by the AstraZeneca jab.

The fact remains that all vaccines have the potential to harm a small number and that harm has to be weighed against the clear overall benefit for the majority of the population.

As things stand, the risk of a blood-clotting problem is vanishingly small, about one in 600,000, though – it has to be said – we are in a rapidly evolving situation. Ongoing research and close surveillance is vital. It may be that a causal link is established between the Oxford jab and these brain blood clots, and, if so, it is important that doctors are made aware so that they can offer rapid diagnosis and specific treatments.

Indeed, I understand that the World Health Organisation, the EMA and our own Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency may clarify their policies over the AstraZeneca vaccine as early as today and we must, of course, follow their advice.

But whatever conclusion they arrive at we must not allow it to detract from our appreciation of the great success of our vaccination programme to date.

  • David Werring is Professor of Clinical Neurology at the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology.
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