By Lina Saigol
Healthy adults under the age of 40 should be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca (NAS:AZN) (LON:UK:AZN) COVID-19 vaccine where possible as a precaution, due to an “extremely small risk” from rare blood clots in recipients of the shot, the U.K.’s expert panel of vaccine advisors said on Friday.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) widened the age range of people who should be offered alternatives to include people aged 30-39. In April, the U.K. drugs regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), stressed the benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine outweigh the risks for the “vast majority” of people, and recommended no age restrictions on the drug company’s vaccine. However, it said that for young people it was more “finely balanced,” prompting the JCVI to recommend that adults under 30 be offered an alternative shot, such as the one jointly developed by biotech BioNTech (NAS:BNTX) and drug company Pfizer (NYS:PFE) , or the one made by biotech Moderna (NAS:MRNA) .
“As COVID-19 rates continue to come under control, we are advising that adults aged 18–39 years with no underlying health conditions are offered an alternative to the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine, if available and if it does not cause delays in having the vaccine,” said Prof. Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI, in a statement on Friday.
The updated guidance comes despite both the JCVI and the MHRA saying there are no fresh safety concerns.
The MHRA said that 242 cases of the rare blood-clotting events had been identified to date among people in the U.K. who have had at least a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 33 more than the week before. These 242 cases include 49 deaths. Two-thirds of the people affected by the condition were under the age of 60.
Up to April 28 there had been 22.6 million first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered in the U.K., with 5.9 million second doses.
Responding to the JCVI’s recommendation, MHRA Chief Executive Dr. June Raine said: “Our position remains that the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca against COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalization and death, continues to outweigh the risks for the vast majority of people.”
She added: “The balance of benefits and risks is very favorable for older people but is more finely balanced for younger people and we advise that this evolving evidence should be taken into account when considering the use of the vaccine, as JCVI has done.”
More than 34 million people in the U.K have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine, while 15 million have had both doses of the vaccine, according to the latest government figures, and the government said it remains on track to offer a vaccine to all adults by the end of July.
A review by the European Medicines Agency’s safety committee concluded in April that “unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects” of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been developed together with the University of Oxford, but insisted the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.
Denmark has permanently stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine following its possible link to very rare cases of blood clots, while several other European countries have restricted the use of the vaccine to older people. Denmark has also excluded the COVID-19 shot made by healthcare company Johnson & Johnson (NYS:JNJ) from its immunization program, over a potential link to a rare but serious form of blood clot.
However, on Thursday, Germany said anyone aged 18 and older could now receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, removing earlier restrictions that limited use of the shot to people over 60, in a move aimed at speeding up immunization efforts in the country.