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Oxford Covid jab: UK’s vaccination programme ‘must continue’ despite blood clot fears

Ministers are trying to dispel concerns about the vaccine - after trials involving children were put on hold.

The trial has been paused while regulatory bodies from the UK, Europe and the World Health Organisation (WHO) assess data on the jab and a potential association with a rare form of blood clot.

The University of Oxford said that no safety concerns have arisen from the trial itself.

But it is waiting for more information from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before giving any more vaccinations.

The University of Oxford said in a statement: “Whilst there are no safety concerns in the paediatric clinical trial, we await additional information from the MHRA on its review of rare cases of thrombosis/thrombocytopaenia that have been reported in adults, before giving any further vaccinations in the trial. 

“Parents and children should continue to attend all scheduled visits and can contact the trial sites if they have any questions.”

Meanwhile, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) thinks the UK’s vaccination programme must continue if the country is to emerge from lockdown.

Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the JCVI, said it was vital to keep vaccines going as society opens up, in order to help stave off rising infection rates.

The University of Oxford said in a statement: “Whilst there are no safety concerns in the paediatric clinical trial, we await additional information from the MHRA on its review of rare cases of thrombosis/thrombocytopaenia that have been reported in adults, before giving any further vaccinations in the trial. 

“Parents and children should continue to attend all scheduled visits and can contact the trial sites if they have any questions.”

It comes as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) are expected to give updates on their investigations into whether the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is directly causing rare brain blood clots.

Some European countries have restricted the vaccine use in younger people following reports of low platelet counts and cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a specific type of clot that prevents blood from draining from the brain.

Asked if different vaccines could end up being used for certain groups as more vaccine types come on stream, Prof Finn told BBC Breakfast: “That’s certainly possible. We are seeing another vaccine coming in (Moderna), and further vaccines are approaching licensure, and I know that the UK has made contracts for quite a wide range of different vaccines.

“As time goes forward, we will have much more flexibility about who can be offered what.

“On the other hand, we do need to keep the programme going if the plan to open things up and allow things to get back to normal is to proceed without another wave of the pandemic coming through.

“So it’s quite a tricky balancing act here, getting the balance right, getting vaccines coming through… getting the risk-benefit right for people coming forward.”

He urged people being offered the vaccine at the moment to take it, saying the “risk-benefit is very strongly in favour of receiving the vaccine”.

But Dr Maggie Wearmouth, a member of the JCVI, told the Daily Telegraph that “perhaps slowing things down” with the rollout “until we’re absolutely certain” might be wise.

Speaking in a personal capacity, she said: “The issue is about safety and public confidence. We don’t want to cover anything up that we feel that the public should be knowing.

“We’re not here to blindly follow targets or due dates. We will do what is necessary.”

Prof Finn told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the reports of clots were being investigated “very seriously” and “very thoroughly”.

He said: “What stands out about them is that we see thrombosis, including thrombosis in the cerebral veins, all the time, but we don’t normally see them in association with a low platelet count – which is a small blood cell which is involved in blood clotting – and so that makes them stand out and makes us think that this is something a little bit different and out of the norm.”

In the last MHRA update, 30 cases of CVST and seven deaths were reported in the UK among more than 18.1 million people receiving the jab.

Prof Finn said: “Those figures quoted were up until March 24 and I think we’ll hear shortly what’s happened subsequent to that in terms of numbers of cases, but we can expect there will have been more in the interim.”

Meanwhile, GP Dr Ellie Cannon, who appears on TV and writes for newspapers, told the BBC the rate for this type of blood clot was around one in 2.5 million people.

She said that, in contrast, among 2.5 million 40-year-olds with Covid “we would expect around 2,000 deaths”, adding the risk of a clot was “incredibly rare”.

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