The UK Vaccines Board announced on Friday that all adults under 40 in the country should be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine. Concerns about very rare blood clots, the diminishing risk of severe coronavirus infection in younger adults, and the availability of alternatives were addressed.
The guidelines expand on previous advice that alternative doses should be offered to people under the age of 30.
The use of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been compromised by uncertainty following reports of a possible association between doses and very rare blood clots. However, public health experts around the world say the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks for most people.
The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization stressed that younger people are less likely to develop the coronavirus seriously as infection rates drop across the country. This new reality, coupled with the availability of alternative vaccines, took the decision into account.
The country is also closely monitoring new variants of the coronavirus, however, and on Friday public health officials in England noted that a variant first discovered in India has now been viewed as a “worrying variant” – meaning it is at least as transmissible as that dominant variant in Great Britain. The cases identified in the country more than doubled in the week from 202 to 520, but still only make up a fraction of the cases there.
While there is not yet enough evidence as to whether any of the variants recently discovered in India causes more serious illness or makes vaccines less effective, the UK is proceeding with caution. Most of the identified cases of the variant are in London and the city of Bolton in north-west England.
Regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, regulators indicated that an alternative should be offered to healthy adults under 40, if available, but stressed that potentially serious side effects of the doses were “extremely rare”. It found that “for the vast majority of people, the benefits of preventing serious illness and death far outweigh the risks”.
The Vaccination Committee recommended that anyone who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should receive a second, except for those who developed clotting.
The UK Medicines Agency had received reports of 242 cases of blood clots accompanied by low platelet counts in people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine by April 28. To date, approximately 22.6 million AstraZeneca doses have been administered in the UK, including approximately 5.9 million second doses.
In total, around 35 million people in the country have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.