UK 'planning to widen AstraZeneca COVID jab restrictions'

Resourceful or risky-The UKs controversial COVID-19 vaccine strategy

Reports are emerging that the UK may join other countries in imposing restrictions on the use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine in younger people, after a fresh look at the risks and benefits of the shot. 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said last month that it is preferable for adults aged under 30 with no underlying conditions to be offered an alternative to the AZ/Oxford University adenovirus-based vaccine where available

Now the panel is poised to raise the age threshold to the under 40s, according to a report in the Independent citing a senior government source, who said the move would not impact the UK's aim to deliver a first dose to every adult by the end of July.

The decision comes on the back of new data showing that younger people are more likely to develop rare blood clots linked to the vaccine, and declining rates of COVID-19 mean the risk may outweigh the dangers of infection.

If confirmed, the new restrictions would mean that people under 40 would be offered the mRNA-based Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, which have not been linked to the clotting side effects. Last week, the UK ordered 60 million more doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.

Another option could be Novavax's protein subunit vaccine that is expected to get a green light from the UK regulator this month. The UK government has ordered 60 million does of the shot, which will have a key manufacturing step carried out at GlaxoSmithKline's facility in County Durham.

New clot data

Updated figures from the UK medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) show 242 cases of the rare blood clots, with six occurring after second doses, to give an incidence of 10.5 per million doses administered.

The 242 cases included 49 deaths, and around two-thirds were seen in people under 60 while more than a fifth were in the under 40 age group.

That's an increase on the earlier estimate of 9.3 per million, and comes after 22.6 million first doses of the vaccine had been given, with 5.9 million second doses.

"The advice remains that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks in the majority of people," according to the regulator, although it said there is "some evidence that the reported incidence rate is higher in females compared to men, although this is not seen across all age groups and the difference remains small".

The deliberations come as new cases of COVID-19 as well as hospitalisations continue a three-month decline, with just under 1,300 in hospital with the infection as of yesterday.

There is anxiety however about an emerging Indian variant of the virus – known as B.1.617.2 - which appears to spread more quickly. Reports suggest that more than 500 cases have already been detected in England, a sizeable increase on the 202 cases officially recorded last week, according to the BBC.