Why under-40s will be offered alternative to Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

Experts say potential blood clot risk vs. benefits of the Covid jab is ‘more finely balanced’ for younger adults

A medical worker draws up a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
(Image credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

People aged under 40 are to be offered an alternative to the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine as a precaution against the possible risk of blood clots, UK health officials have announced.

The change in guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) “marks an extension to existing guidance” that all under-30s in the UK should be offered a choice over which Covid-19 vaccine they receive, Sky News reports.

According to latest data from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), a total of 242 clotting cases and 49 related deaths have been recorded among recipients of around 28.5 million doses of the vaccine administered so far. That equates to an incidence rate of 10.5 per million doses, and about one in a million for a second dose.

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However, the risk of clotting “is slightly higher in younger age groups”, says the BBC. And with younger people less likely to die or suffer extreme symptoms as a result of infection with the coronavirus, the MHRA has concluded that the potential benefits vs. risks is “more finely balanced” among younger groups.

“Low levels of coronavirus” across the country and “the availability of alternative vaccines” has also informed the decision, the broadcaster adds.

JCVI chair Professor Wei Shen Lim has emphasised that "safety remains our number one priority”.

“As Covid-19 rates continue to come under control, we are advising that adults aged 18 to 39 years with no underlying health conditions are offered an alternative to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, if available and if it does not cause delays in having the vaccine,” he said.

Underlining the safety message, MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine said the benefits of the Oxford jab continued to outweigh the risks for the “vast majority of people”. But while “the balance of benefits and risks is very favourable for older people”, it “is more finely balanced for younger people”, she added.

However, some under-40s may still be offered the Oxford vaccine as it is “as it is easier to both transport and store, making it more practical than the alternatives”, the BBC reports. The JCVI guidance states that “an alternative jab should only be given where it does not cause a major delay in immunisation”.

Under the JCVI’s timetable for the national Covid jabs rollout, all adults in the UK are to be offered a first dose by the end of July.

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