The sister of a married lawyer who died from a blood clot after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine today joined the legion of politicians and health experts encouraging people to continue taking up the jab and said: ‘My brother was just extraordinarily unlucky’.
Neil Astles, 59, from Newton-le-Willows on Merseyside, became the UK’s first named victim after passing away on Easter Sunday following 10 days of severe headaches and a steady loss of vision.
Mr Astles, who worked as a council solicitor in nearby Warrington, lived in a £275,000 detached house with his wife Carole, and died on Easter Sunday, close to the couple’s 28th wedding anniversary this month.
His sister Dr Alison Astles, a pharmacist at the University of Huddersfield, said her brother was ‘fit and healthy’ but developed a headache about a week after his vaccination March 17. When his headaches and eyesight worsened, he was rushed to A&E at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, before being admitted to intensive care, where he died more than a fortnight later.
Dr Astles told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Despite what has happened to our family, we strongly believe that everyone should go for their first and second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Emotionally, we are completely and utterly furious. We are suffering. But there’s nothing in our minds to be really furious about. My brother was just extraordinarily unlucky.’
Yesterday Britain’s medical regulator announced the vaccine created by Oxford University and produced by AstraZeneca would not be used for those under 30 following extremely rare cases of clotting.
But the MHRA insisted the benefit of vaccines far outweighs the risks because the chances of suffering blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca jab was 0.000095 per cent. The BMJ said the risk is the same as being killed by a plane falling from the sky and crashing on your house.
Dr Alison Astles agreed and said: ‘If we all have the vaccine, a few of us might have a blood clot but the evidence is that fewer people will die.’
As the public was urged to retain confidence in the AstraZeneca jab:
- Ministers were confident Britain would hit its target to vaccinate all adults by the end of July;
- The European regulator said that the AstraZeneca vaccine should come with a warning of side effects of potential blood clotting, but stopped short of calling for its use to be limited;
- Scientists said the UK was on track to achieve herd immunity at 74 per cent protection by Monday;
- A major study found that infections in England have more than halved in the past month and the return of schools had little effect on the outbreak;
- Infections fell by a third on last week to 2,763 daily cases recorded yesterday, while there were 45 deaths.
Neil Astles, 59, from Warrington, became the UK’s first named victim after passing away on Easter Sunday following 10 days of headaches and loss of vision
A woman is given a coronavirus vaccine at Cardiff and Vale Therapy Centre
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF THE RARE BLOOD CLOTS LINKED TO ASTRAZENECA’S VACCINE?
MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine said anyone who has one or more of the below symptoms for longer than four days after vaccination should seek urgent medical advice.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Swollen leg
- Persistent stomach pain
- Severe headache
- Blurred vision
- Skin bruising beyond the site of injection
Ministers, MPs, watchdogs and health officials yesterday blitzed the public with messages to try to shore up support for the AstraZeneca vaccine amid fears the new advice could dent confidence.
Boris Johnson said: ‘As the regulators have said, this vaccine is safe, effective and has already saved thousands of lives – and the vast majority of people should continue to take it when offered.
‘We will follow today’s updated advice, which should allow people of all ages to continue to have full confidence in vaccines, helping us save lives and cautiously return towards normality.’
Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘The AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, effective and saving thousands of lives. Trust in our doctors and scientists. When it is your turn to get the jab, do so. My first dose was AstraZeneca and I look forward to getting my second dose when it is offered.’
Professor Wei Shen Lim, coronavirus chairman for the vaccines committee, said: ‘The Covid-19 vaccines have already saved thousands of lives and the benefit for the majority of the population is clear – if you are offered a vaccine, you should take it.’
The blizzard of messages came after the MHRA announced at a press conference that those aged 18-29 will be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca jab – either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines that are currently on stream.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam described the change of tack as a ‘course correction that was ‘quite normal’.
He told the briefing: ‘This is a massive beast that we are driving along at enormous pace with enormous success, this vaccine programme.
‘If you sail a massive liner across the Atlantic then it’s not really reasonable that you aren’t going to have to make at least one course correction during that voyage.’
Boris Johnson said: ‘As the regulators have said, this vaccine is safe, effective and has already saved thousands of lives – and the vast majority of people should continue to take it when offered’
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam underscored the improbability of suffering blood clots because of the AstraZeneca jab
In low Covid levels, every 100,000 vaccines prevents 0.8 ICU admissions from coronavirus in people under 30 but 1.1 people will suffer blood clotting after having the jab, making the threat higher than the virus itself
When there is medium prevalence, the threat of Covid still outweighs the chance of clots after AZ vaccine in every age group
When coronavirus is prevalent in society, 100,000 AstraZeneca vaccines prevent 127.7 Covid ICU admissions among 60 to 69-year-olds. For 20 to 29-year-olds, every 100,000 vaccine administered stops seven people in that age group from being admitted to intensive care with the disease
Clots are similar to condition linked to blood-thinning medicine, says Europe
The rare but potentially fatal blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine are similar to a condition suffered by patients treated with a blood-thinning medicine, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said.
Analysis of the jab, prompted by concerns about severe blood clots, concluded that most of the incidents occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination with the AstraZeneca product, but said no specific risk factors have been identified based on current evidence.
They said the body’s natural response, similar to conditions seen in patients treated with the anticoagulant heparin, might be a plausible explanation for the blood clotting side effect.
EMA safety committee chairwoman Dr Sabine Straus told a Brussels briefing on Wednesday: ‘Current available data did not allow us to identify a definite cause for these complications.
‘However possible plausible explanations have been put forward, including an immune response that leads to a condition that seems similar to atypical heparin-induced thrombocytopenia.’
The EMA said data showed the blood clots reported had been found in veins in the brain, the abdomen and arteries, combined with low levels of blood platelets and sometimes bleeding.
Symptoms associated with the blood clots include shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling in the leg, persistent abdominal pain, severe headaches, blurred vision and tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the area where the injection was administered, and anyone who displayed them should seek medical attention.
The EMA’s Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee carried out an in-depth review of 62 cases of clots in the brain and 24 cases of clots in the abdomen as of March 22, with 18 of the combined cases proving fatal.
They came from reporting systems in the European Economic Area and the UK, from around 25 million people who had received the vaccine.
The committee has requested new studies and amendments to ongoing ones to provide more information.
Emer Cooke, executive director of the EMA, said its review ‘confirmed that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 overall outweigh the risk of side effects’, adding: ‘Vaccination is extremely important in helping us in the fight against Covid-19.’
The MHRA has not yet established a causal link between the cases of clotting and the AstraZeneca vaccine, although the regulator said the evidence was becoming ‘firmer’.
The MHRA’s chief executive, Dr June Raine, said there is a ‘reasonably plausible’ link between the AstraZeneca jab and rare blood clots.
She said: ‘The evidence has accrued not only in numbers and kinds of cases but the pattern of those cases. So we feel it’s a much more solid basis in our regulatory world to put in the side effect into our product information and that tells us it is a reasonably plausible link.’
However, she said the clots were ‘extremely rare’, adding: ‘Based on the current evidence, the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca against Covid-19 and its associated risks – hospitalisation and death – continues to outweigh the risks for the vast majority of people.
‘Our review has reinforced that the risk of this rare suspected side effect remains extremely small.’
The 79 cases occurred in 51 women and 28 men, aged from 18 to 79. Of the 19 who died, three were under the age of 30, the MHRA said.
Some 14 cases of the 19 were cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a specific type of clot that prevents blood from draining from the brain. The other five cases were other kinds of thrombosis in major veins.
Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines, said: ‘The early evidence suggests that this constellation of symptoms is caused by an immune response against platelets which allows the platelets to then lead to clotting in different parts of the body.
‘But what we don’t have clearly is the link between the vaccine and how the immune response becomes activated against the platelets.’
He said any risks from the jab had to be set against the fact around 30 per cent of people with Covid suffer low blood platelet counts, while Covid also ’causes clotting’.
Some 7.8 per cent of people with Covid suffer blood clots on the lungs, while 11.2 per cent will suffer deep vein thrombosis (DVT), he added.
He said there appears to be a ‘slightly higher risk in the younger age group’ of clots after the AstraZeneca vaccine, but the reason is ‘not clear’ with further work required.
Separately, a review by the European Medicines Agency concluded on Wednesday that ‘unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects’ of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Emer Cooke, executive director of EMA, said its review ‘confirmed that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 overall outweigh the risk of side effects’, adding: ‘Vaccination is extremely important in helping us in the fight against Covid-19.’
The EMA, which polices the safety of drugs used on the continent, spotted 169 cases of cerebral vein thrombosis (CVST) and 53 cases of splanchnic vein thrombosis (SVT), from 34million jabs. CVST occurs when a vein that drains blood from the brain is blocked by a clot. It can lead to a stroke. SVT is the same type of blood clot but it occurs in the digestive system
Is it safe for me to get my second dose of AstraZeneca’s jab? Can I get Pfizer’s instead? What are the alternatives for under-30s? And what are the tell-tale symptoms of blood clots?
By Stephen Matthews and Joe Davies for MailOnline
Britons were once again left with a raft of questions over the safety of AstraZeneca‘s coronavirus vaccine after health chiefs today recommended it should not be given to under-30s because of its link to potentially deadly blood clots.
The Government, opposition politicians and medical experts tonight rushed to shore up confidence in AstraZeneca’s vaccine, insisting that it was safe and the benefits far outweighed any risks for the vast majority.
Here MailOnline answers all of your questions about AstraZeneca’s jab, revealing why it is safe for you to still get your second dose and what the alternatives are for under-30s.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED?
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that healthy adults aged 18-29 are offered an alternative vaccine to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, if available.
The recommendation follows a review by the UK’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, which found there was a ‘strong possibility’ that very rare blood clots, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), could be caused by the vaccine.
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, yesterday said the possible side effect was ‘extremely rare’, while the balance of benefits from having the jab are ‘still very favourable for the majority of people’. However, for healthy younger adults, for which the risk from coronavirus is far lower, it is more ‘finely balanced’.
SHOULD I STILL GET MY SECOND ASTRAZENECA JAB?
Anyone who has already had their first dose of AstraZeneca’s jab, regardless of their age, was today urged to still attend their second appointment as planned.
Scientific trials have shown the British-made jab works better after two doses, with the UK’s current campaign based on dishing out top-ups after 12 weeks.
The JCVI’s advice only applies to healthy under-30s — who should not yet have been invited for vaccines.
But health bosses said NHS workers, carers and family members of vulnerable adults who have yet to get jabbed should also be offered an alternative vaccine.
Regulators insisted the benefits of the jab — which has been repeatedly been proven to save lives and stop people falling severely ill with coronavirus — clearly outweigh the very small risk for everyone else.
Addressing the fears today, Boris Johnson said it was ‘very important for everybody to continue to get their top-up jab when you’re asked to come forward for your turn’.
WHAT IF I HAD TELL-TALE SYMPTOMS OF A CLOT THE FIRST TIME ROUND?
Brits who suffered flu-like symptoms after getting the first jab — which are common side effects of any vaccine — do not need to worry, experts say.
Instead, only people who were actually diagnosed with a blood clot after getting the first dose should hold off on getting their booster shot.
In its guidance today, the JCVI said the clots ‘appear to be an idiosyncratic reaction on first exposure’ to AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI, said: ‘We’ve not seen a single case of thrombosis after a second dose of AZ so far. So there is no evidence of a problem after the second dose.
‘At the moment we would be voyaging into an evidence-free zone if we recommend people do not have a second dose. The evidence is there’s no risk we have found — but that may change.’
CAN I GET A SECOND DOSE OF PFIZER OR MODERNA IF I HAD AN ASTRAZENECA JAB FIRST?
Drug regulators have yet to approve a mix-and-match policy for jabs, meaning Brits must get the same vaccine twice.
Britain’s scientists are already looking at whether mixing and matching coronavirus vaccines is safe and can enhance protection against the disease.
Experts believe the ‘mix and match’ approach could stimulate different parts of the immune system and give better, longer lasting immunity.
The tactic could also help Britain deal with supply shortages which has held back the UK’s otherwise successful vaccination rollout.
WHAT OTHER JABS ARE AVAILABLE FOR UNDER-30S?
More than 20million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have now been given in the UK, with the jab used as the main weapon in the UK’s arsenal.
The roll-out is unlikely to move on to under-30s for several weeks, perhaps months, meaning that supplies of the other jabs could be saved for younger adults.
Moderna’s jab was deployed in Britain for the first time today, with ministers having bought 17million doses — enough for 8.5million people.
The chief scientist behind the US-developed Novavax vaccine, which Britain has secured 60million doses of, has said he expects it to be given the green light this month and rolled out in May.
A separate vaccine made by American pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson, which uses the same type of technology as AstraZeneca’s but is administered via a single injection, is slated for a summer rollout. No10 has bought 30million doses.
But, given that AstraZeneca’s vaccine is the main driver of the campaign, the roll-out could be slowed if the UK’s change of heart on giving the jab to young adults knocks public confidence in 30-50 year olds.
WHAT ARE THE BLOOD CLOTS LINKED TO ASTRAZENECA’S JAB?
European health chiefs today ruled that AstraZeneca’s Covid jab should come with a warning that, in very rare cases, it may cause potentially deadly blood clots.
The EMA, which polices the safety of drugs used on the continent, spotted 169 cases of cerebral vein thrombosis (CVST) and 53 cases of splanchnic vein thrombosis (SVT), from 34million jabs.
CVST occurs when a vein that drains blood from the brain is blocked by a clot. It can lead to a stroke.
SVT is the same type of blood clot but it occurs in the digestive system.
Both the EMA and their UK counterparts said the clots had occurred alongside thrombocytopenia — low levels of blood platelets.
WHAT SYMPTOMS DO THE CLOTS CAUSE?
The EMA said symptoms of the two blood clots included:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Swelling of leg
- Persistent stomach pain
- Severe headache
- Blurred vision
- Skin bruising beyond the site of injection
IS THERE ANY PROOF THE JAB CAUSES THE BLOOD CLOTS?
Scientists have repeatedly insisted there is no proof that AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine causes the blood clots.
But officials are still investigating the link and can’t rule it out completely.
Although there isn’t any evidence that clots are developing because of vaccinations, some academics have a theory that it is the immune reaction making it happen.
Research teams in Germany and Norway claim the blood clotting issue may be caused by the jab, in very rare cases, making the body attack its own platelets.
Platelets are tiny chunks of cells inside blood that the body uses to build clots to stop bleeding when someone is injured. But they can also make unwanted clots.
Experts from Oslo and Greifswald University believe the jab could cause the body to produce antibodies – normally used to fight off viruses – which mistake platelets in the blood for foreign invaders and attack them.
To compensate, the body then overproduces platelets to replace those that are being attacked, causing the blood to thicken and raising the risk of clotting.
The researchers say the phenomenon is similar to one that can occur in heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), when sufferers take a drug called heparin.
HOW OFTEN ARE THE CLOTS OCCURRING?
Figures presented by the EMA today — which took into account data up until April 4 — suggested the clots occur once in every 150,000 jabs. They also said most of the cases were in women under 60.
The MHRA, which plays the same role in the UK, found 79 cases of clots in 20million doses by the end of March. Officials said the risk was around one in every 250,000 doses.
They also insisted the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks for the vast majority of people — but that the ratio was more ‘finely balanced’ in younger people, who are slightly more prone to blood clots.
LBC claimed that the MHRA revealed the baseline rate of CVST was between five and 16 cases per million people each year. The MHRA has spotted 44 cases of that blood clot — a rate of two cases per million people every three months.
EMA chiefs said that clots occurred more often than expected, prompting them to say the jabs need to come with the warning that it is a rare side effect.
But it said the committee investigating the link did not conclude that age and gender were clear risk factors for the very rare side effects.
WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE ALREADY RESTRICTED THE JAB TO OLDER PEOPLE?
Germany last week temporarily banned the AstraZeneca vaccine for under-60s, while France took the same controversial move for under-55s.
Iceland has restricted it to over-70s, while Finland, Sweden and Lithuania all say it can only be given to adults over the age of 65.
Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Latvia have all suspended the jab completely, while regulators probe the link further.
But the EMA refused to back any of the nations in their age-restricted roll-outs. Last week it publicly said there was no evidence to justify sweeping bans for younger people.
IF I’M PREGNANT, SHOULD I GET THE VACCINE?
The advice on this has not changed, meaning it’s recommended that those who are pregnant should not be vaccinated, with some exceptions. This is because the vaccines have not yet been tested in pregnancy.
While there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine would harm the baby, pregnancy is more likely to lead to thrombosis.
Therefore women should discuss with their healthcare professional whether the benefits of having the vaccine outweigh the risks for them.
I’M 29. WHAT IF THEY ONLY OFFER THE OXFORD VACCINE?
Officials say this will not happen unless you have an underlying medical condition and are prioritised. In such instances, they say the benefit of having the vaccine far outweighs any issues as you have an equivalent risk from coronavirus as 65 to 70-year-olds. For healthy under-30s, officials are confident there are sufficient supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines coming on stream to vaccinate all 10million 18 to 29-year-olds in the UK.
I’VE HEARD ASPIRIN CAN STOP BLOOD CLOTTING. SHOULD I TAKE IT BEFORE THE JAB?
No. The risks of an adverse clotting event are extremely low. Taking aspirin or anti-coagulants can increase the risk of bleeding and is not