Uncertainty over Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine lingers as UK, Italy, Belgium restrict use

As uncertainty over the overall safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine jab continues, three European countries, UK, Italy, and Belgium announced the restriction of its use following link between the vaccine and a rare blood clots.

Britons aged 18-29 will be offered an alternative to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after 79 people developed blood clots within days of getting the jab.

There is a possible link between the Oxford vaccine and “extremely rare and unlikely to occur” blood clots with lowered platelets, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has concluded.

Younger people are much less likely to die from COVID-19, so the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has decided it is safer to advise that age group are offered a different jab, where possible.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the new advice is a “course correction” for the UK’s “very successful” vaccine rollout – and said for most age groups the “benefits outweigh the risks”.

He said the new advice will have a negligible impact on the UK’s rollout, which is continuing “full speed ahead”.

Oxford Vaccine Group chief Andrew Pollard said the identification of the blood clot cases “shows the safety system works”.

The advice is being given after a total of 79 people in the UK have developed blood clots following their first Oxford-AstraZeneca jab up to 31 March, Dr. June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, said.

Of those who have developed blood clots, 19 have died – three under the age of 30.

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A total of 51 women and 28 men aged 18 to 79 were affected, but Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the commission on human medicines, said there is no evidence women have a predilection to develop blood clots after having the Oxford jab.

Both UK and EU regulators have requested Astrazeneca lists the “extremely rare potential side effect” on the vaccine’s labels, the pharmaceutical giant said. It added that it has been “actively collaborating” with the regulators.

Dr. Raine said anybody suffering the following side effects four days after getting a jab should seek medical attention:

-Headaches
-Blurred vision
-Shortness of breath
-Chest pain
-Leg swelling
-Abdominal pain
-Bruising or pinpoint spots beyond the vaccination site

Italy recommends AstraZeneca vaccine be restricted to over-60s

Italy has also advised that the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine be restricted to the over-60s.

Health minister Roberto Speranza made the recommendation following consultation with experts and “other institutional figures,” Franco Locatelli, head of Italy’s Superior Health Council, said on Wednesday.

The recommendation does not ban it’s use in younger people in the country.

Additionally, people under the age of 60 who have already had one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine are advised to proceed with the second.

More than a dozen countries at one time suspended use of the jab, which has been given to tens of millions in Europe, over fears of a possible link with rare forms of blood clots.

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Most have resumed but some, including France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany, have set a minimum age for its use.

It comes as the UK health regulator said there may be a very rare link with clotting disorders in young people and that the AstraZeneca jab should be restricted to use in the over-30s, where possible.

However, the European Medicines Agency has only recommended blood clots be listed as a rare side effect.

Belgium restricts jab to over 55s

Belgium on Wednesday also announced it is restricting AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to over 55s only, following confirmation by the EU’s drugs regulator of a link with rare forms of blood clots.

The suspension of the jab for adults aged 18 to 55 is based on “recent scientific advice,” the health ministry said in a statement, adding that people in that age bracket would be offered jabs from BioNTech/Pfizer or Moderna instead.

With agency reports

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