Covid-19 UK: Moderna’s vaccine comes on stream in small quantities

No10 may have to roll back its target date for vaccinating all adults if AstraZeneca‘s jab is banned for under-30s, an expert warned today. 

And Britain may need to approve vaccines developed by Russia or China in order to hit the goal of offering everyone a first dose by the end of July.  

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which polices the safety of drugs in the UK, is considering restricting AstraZeneca’s jab for under-30s, it was claimed last night.

Vaccine watchdogs insist no decision has yet to be made and and insiders say they are not expecting any German-style ban for certain age groups.

But Dr Simon Clarke, an infectious disease expert at the University of Reading, told MailOnline the UK would struggle to hit its July 31 vaccination target if AstraZeneca’s jab is banned for under-30s.

He said it would mean the UK would need to buy millions more doses of other jabs in a matter of a few of months.

But Dr Clarke added: ‘Given the global demand, it seems unlikely that they’d be able to secure Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines quickly enough and it seems unlikely that Novavax will be ready in time.

‘The only other option seems to be for the government to roll back that target date, or perhaps try to secure approval and supply of vaccines from Russia or China.’

The UK may have to roll back its target date for vaccinating all adults if AstraZeneca's vaccine is banned for under-30s, Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor of microbiology at the University of Reading, has warned

The UK may have to roll back its target date for vaccinating all adults if AstraZeneca's vaccine is banned for under-30s, Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor of microbiology at the University of Reading, has warned

The UK may have to roll back its target date for vaccinating all adults if AstraZeneca’s vaccine is banned for under-30s, Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor of microbiology at the University of Reading, has warned

Trials have shown China’s vaccine is only 50 per cent effective at blocking Covid symptoms. It is being used in Chile, which has had to implement new restrictions in the face of a spike in cases.

Russia’s vaccine, called Sputnik V, is thought to be around 90 per cent effective at thwarting infections. 

Government sources last week claimed Johnson & Johnson’s single dose jab could be given to under-30s.

But Dr Clarke warned it was not a likely outcome because the jab isn’t expected to be approved until July.

He said this would mean that half the UK’s 30million order would need to arrive in time for July, with officials estimating there are around 14million adults under the age of 30.

‘J&J will have contracts to supply other countries and it seems highly unlikely that they would be willing or able to simply switch supply to the UK,’ Dr Clarke said. 

Britain has already began rationing first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, using supplies to ensure vulnerable people get their top-up within 12 weeks. 

AstraZeneca has become the main weapon used in No10’s roll-out, with almost all first-timers getting the UK-developed jab towards the end of March. 

Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is set to come on stream by mid-April, with ministers having bought 17million doses — enough to vaccinate 8.5million people. 

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. 

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But supplies will come in drips between now and the end of the year and given they will be come on stream now, they are likely to be given to over-30s and 40s over the next few months. 

No10 sources have repeatedly insisted the UK is on track to hit the goal of vaccinating all adults by the end of July. 

The innoculation campaign could, however, be boosted by Novavax. Regulators have yet to approve the firm’s jab — but it should be ready by July. 

Downing St has already bought 60million doses of the Durham-made jab. But health chiefs remain tight-lipped as to when supplies are expected.

And if Pfizer’s vaccine supply remains constant, it opens up the possibility that No10 will still be able to offer doses to younger adults.

Currently the immunisation drive is only open to over-50s and adults at-risk, with an expected shortage in April forcing ministers to pause on inviting over-40s. But Government sources are hopeful the roll-out can move down the age groups when Moderna finally gets deployed.

Technically Britain has enough vaccines to give everyone five doses — given it has ordered 457million doses from eight different pharmaceutical companies in total. But the roll-out depends entirely on supply, with not all vaccines coming at once. 

Several European countries — including Germany, Spain and Norway — suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine after dozens of vaccinated people suffered a rare brain clot, known as CVST, or cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. 

The UK’s health watchdog announced last week it had saw 30 cases in 18.1million AstraZeneca-vaccinated people — around one in every 600,000 people (0.00017 per cent).

The MHRA is currently probing a link between the AstraZeneca jab and rare blood clots, but Government sources told The Daily Telegraph they were not expecting the regulator to put any restrictions on the company’s vaccine.  

James Lawson, fellow at the Adam Smith Institute think tank said withdrawing the vaccine would damage the UK’s roll-out and should only be considered if there is ‘sufficient evidence that this is appropriate’.

He said: ‘The Oxford vaccine constitutes the majority of current UK supplies and plays an essential role in protecting the vulnerable and reducing Covid’s spread. 

‘It provides us with the best path out of this horrible pandemic. It would be madness to fall prey to scaremongering by withdrawing the vaccine at this crucial moment until there is sufficient evidence that this is appropriate.

‘The regulators are right to continue investigating any side effects and monitoring these isolated cases further to better understand the risks, ensure confidence is maintained, and if necessary, to guide tweaks to the rollout. 

‘If additional evidence emerges requiring a policy change, recipient groups should be altered at that stage.’

The MHRA has not confirmed when it will reveal its decision but insisted that while it was investigating blood clot fears, people should continue taking the vaccine. 

It said: ‘People should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so.

‘Our thorough and detailed review is ongoing into reports of very rare and specific types of blood clots with low platelets following the Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca.

‘No decision has yet been made on any regulatory action.’ 

It comes as one of the European drug regulator’s senior officials today claimed there is now a ‘clear’ link between AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine and potentially deadly blood clots.

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.

But he 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. 

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