OFFICIALS will decide tomorrow if the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe for people in their 30s.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will hold a crunch meeting to discuss whether the benefits of the jab in preventing Covid disease outweigh the tiny risk of blood clots.
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But if health chiefs decide to restrict use of the AstraZeneca jab further, it could slow the programme down.
At the current rate, it is expected people in England in their 30s could be offered their jab within a couple of weeks.
It has already been decided that those under 30 years old will be offered an alternative jab from Pfizer or Moderna.
Deputy chair of the JCVI Professor Anthony Harnden told MPs at the Science and Technology Committee: “We are meeting twice a week at the moment, and almost all the discussions have been about whether to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to under-40s.
“We will be meeting tomorrow and will be making a decision."
It comes as:
- Data shows seven in 10 people in England have coronavirus antibodies – as the nation prepares to further ease lockdown restrictions in weeks.
- Brits will find out in two weeks which holiday destinations will be on the "green list" with vaccine passports on the NHS Covid app
- A study has shown Covid vaccination slashes transmission, with infected people half as likely to pass on the virus if they are jabbed
- 38 million Brits are living in almost "Covid free" areas where there are no more than two infections reported in one week.
“If we make a decision for the under-40s that will delay the immunisation programme, it may push infection rates up, and we may end up getting many many more deaths and hospitalisations as a result.
“So it is a really, really difficult issue to work through.”
He explained that due to supplies of doses, holding back on the AstraZeneca vaccine, created by Oxford University, will mean those under 40 will have to wait longer for their jab.
And with the coinciding lifting of lockdown, this could mean if they catch the coronavirus, they spread it to vulnerable people.
There are some people in the high-risk groups who would not have been able to get the vaccine due to medical reasons, have rejected the offer, or for whom the jab will not work for.
However, the NHS has reportedly secured 40million extra Pfizer doses for the UK, which could fill any gaps left by restricting use of the AZ jab.
Prof Harnden said: “We have got a difficult problem in that the vaccine programme is so successful, we are rolling down the age groups so quickly that we will get to under 40s in a couple of weeks. And in Northern Ireland already.
“So we are very very aware at the JCVI these are not easy decisions.”
As well as the clinically vulnerable, healthy adults aged 35 and over in Northern Ireland have been invited to book their vaccine appointment.
People aged 30 and over are already being called for their appointments across most health boards in Wales, and over 35 in Northern Ireland.
Earlier in the committee meeting, MPs heard that the evidence linking the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots was “firming up”.
Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines, who made the claims, said there does appear to be a trend in blood clot conditions towards younger people.
However, women are at no greater risk of clots.
Sir Munir said: “It’s important to stress that this is extremely rare – only 168 cases among millions and millions of vaccines given.
“The only risk factor we are finding is age, in that there is a slightly higher risk in the younger age group compared with older people.”
Dismissing the suggestion that women are at higher risk, he added: “This vaccine was deployed first among health care and social care workers.
"The majority of the workforce there is female, so they had higher exposure rates.
“But when you then start relating to the exposure rate in different populations, you find the case incidence rate between male and female is actually very similar.”
Currently NHS England is encouraging people aged 42 and above to get their jab.
First doses are still being given out despite the fact supplies are lower in April.
But Prof Harnden said Brits “must not be lulled into a false sense of security” by the success of the UK’s vaccine programme.
He said: “We’ve only got to look at other parts of the world to see how we can be lulled into a false sense of security.
“The vaccines are doing huge amount of good, and a lot of the heavy lifting, but the lockdown easing is so important as well.
“We need to celebrate our success with the vaccines.
"They are tremendously effective, the data is hugely encouraging, but we also need to be cautious because we don’t want to see what’s happening in other parts of Europe and other parts of the world here in the UK.”
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