In the latest blow to AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, intended to be the “workhorse” of the international vaccine rollout organized by Covax, the badly underfunded WHO program to “vaccinate the world”, the German government is reportedly planning to offer patients under 40 an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Younger patients are believed to be at higher risk for rare but potentially deadly cerebral blood clots sometimes observed in patients with low blood-platelet counts as a reaction to the vaccine. Some researchers have pointed to issues with the adenovirus platform, which was also used by J&J in developing its vaccine. That jab has also seen issues with blood clots.
In order to encourage more people to get vaccinated in a country where vaccine skepticism is more pronounced, the Independent reports that the policy, which currently applies to patients under 30, will be expanded.
This comes after the British government reported new figures on blood clot risk.
A senior government source insisted that the change would not impact the UK’s target of offering a first vaccine dose to every adult by the end of July, because of the availability of supplies provided by Pfizer and Moderna.
The source said that the precautionary decision to offer an alternative jab to the under-40s was also driven by the “flexibility” of the vaccination rollout and Britain’s falling Covid-19 infection rates, which mean that, on balance, the risk posed by the blood clots is now greater in younger age groups.
Additionally, Der Spiegel reported Friday that Germany plans to recommend J&J’s vaccine only for patients above 60, most of whom have already been vaccinated. Circling back to Germany’s plans to offer alternatives for the AstraZeneca jab, the Independent said a statement has been drafted by the JCVI offering recommendations, but not policy, to the government. An announcement is set to be made on Friday. No new safety concerns surrounding the vaccine have been raised.
“Because prevalence of Covid is low, and given the strength of the program, that means we’re in a position to act with an abundance of caution and offer a different vaccine to the younger groups,” the source said.
The latest data from the MHRA shows that, up to 28 April, there had been 242 cases of the rare clotting disorder following vaccination using the AstraZeneca jab, with more than 28MM doses administered to date.
Some 24 cases were reported in people aged 18 to 29, 31 for patients in their 30s, and 38 for patients in their 40s, 68 in people in their 50s and 67 in those aged 60 and above. The age of patients from the remaining cases isn’t known.
More than one-fifth of the rare blood clots were in people aged under 40, and two-thirds in those under 60.
However, for people in their twenties, the risk of hospitalization from COVID is similar to the risk of harm posed by the vaccine – a factor that drove the JCVI to introduce the initial policy
While “the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people”, as one official told the Independent, it makes sense for younger patients to try and minimize risks from potentially deadly side effects, since the risks to their health from the virus simply aren’t that prominent.