There was “enough doubt” over the risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine in under-30s to advise alternative jabs for younger age groups, the deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said.
Professor Anthony Harnden said the UK’s advisory body found a “slight gradient” of risk of blood clots in younger age groups, and said it was “not clear” that the benefits of the vaccine did outweigh the risks.
His comments came after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the benefits of the vaccine still outweighed the risks overall.
It said the balance of risk for the AstraZeneca vaccine was very favourable for older people but “more finely balanced” for younger groups, who did not tend to suffer serious Covid illness.
Speaking at a briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre (SMC), Prof Harnden said: “We on JCVI have decided that that risk/benefit ratio doesn’t really stack up when it comes to the very well under-30-year-olds.
“We felt on JCVI, having weighed up all the data, that the benefits outweighed the risks in anybody over the age of 30, but under the age of 30, it was not clear the benefits did outweigh the risks and they were more similar.
“Therefore we decided … as a precautionary approach, we would advise an alternative vaccine for that particular age group.
“We just thought there was enough doubt in our minds that the benefits did not completely outweigh the risks of the vaccine in the very young, well age group.”
People aged 18 to 29 will be offered the Pfizer, Moderna or other jabs that come on stream as the vaccination programme rolls out across the UK.
The decision was welcomed by the British Medical Association (BMA), which called on NHS England to ensure under-30s were able to get their vaccines without issue.
BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “It is absolutely right that the JCVI is being honest about the change of direction in advising those who are under-30 to be vaccinated with either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine – we are fortunate that there are alternative vaccinations that can be offered to those under-30.
“England’s deputy chief medical officer said that giving those under-30 – who are at less risk – an alternative vaccine may mean these patients have to travel further to be given it, or wait a little longer to be vaccinated.
“It’s important that NHS England does everything it can to make this process as easy as possible so that patients will get their first and second doses so that the public can continue to have confidence in the programme.”
Prof Harnden said a similar vaccine type to the AstraZeneca jab was the Janssen vaccine, which the UK had placed orders for.
He said reports of blood clots could be “AstraZeneca-related”, adding: “It could be related to the specific vaccine but could be related to the vaccine platform.
“And if it is, then the same safety signals will arise with the Janssen vaccine, and we know that there’s been one case within the clinical trial of the Janssen vaccine.
“But we’re not seeing this with the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, that’s the Pfizer or Moderna at the moment.”