Updated guidance advising that under-30s should be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is unlikely to disrupt Northern Ireland's vaccination programme, with the Moderna vaccine predicted to be available here within a matter of weeks.
A review of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by drugs regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has found that by the end of March, 79 people in the UK had suffered rare blood clots after vaccination - 19 of whom had died. The organisation has said this is not proof the jab caused the clots.
However, the MHRA review has prompted the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the UK Government's vaccine advisory body, to recommend that people aged 18 to 29 be offered an alternative vaccine where available.
A statement from JCVI also said it is "preferable" for younger health and social care workers, unpaid carers and household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals who have not yet received a first dose of vaccine to receive an alternative to the AstraZeneca jab "on a precautionary basis", although it said people may make an "informed choice to receive the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to receive earlier protection".
It continued: "To date, there are no reports of the extremely rare thrombosis or thrombocytopenia events following receipt of the second dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
"All those who have received a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine should continue to be offered a second dose of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, irrespective of age. The second dose will be important for longer lasting protection against Covid-19."
In Northern Ireland, the AstraZeneca vaccine has primarily been administered by GPs, while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been offered at the trust vaccination centres, although they are using the AstraZeneca for the younger cohorts now eligible for vaccination.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman from the Department of Health said stocks of the Moderna vaccine will be delivered to Northern Ireland next month.
Dr Alan Stout, chair of the British Medical Association's GP committee in Northern Ireland, has welcomed the latest development: "I think it is very reassuring. There isn't a proven link between the vaccine and blood clots and I think the regulators are being cautious, quite rightly, and ensuring that the programme is as safe as possible."
Dr Stout also warned the risk of developing a blood clot remains high for people who develop a Covid-19 infection: "This is really about balancing the risks and making an informed decision. We do know that people can have a very minor Covid infection and develop a blood clot.
"Hopefully this won't slow down the rollout of the vaccine, to date the programme has been concentrating on the older cohorts and it should be some weeks yet before we get to the under-30s. The Moderna vaccine should be delivered next month and hopefully even before then, so that will help."
Dr Stout said it is essential that public confidence in the vaccination programme remains high and it is imperative that younger people are not put off getting a vaccine.
"We want to reduce transmission of the virus and that will reduce everyone's risk, but it also slows the spread of the virus and replications of the virus, which is what causes variants, which is really, really important at this stage," he explained.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has recorded 88 new cases of Covid-19 and no further deaths related to the virus, with 89 Covid-19 inpatients on Wednesday.