UK health watchdog recommends under-30s use alternative vaccine to AstraZeneca

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The UK medical regulator has abruptly changed its guidance over use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, warning that people aged 18-29 should not use the jab, in a move that could complicate Britain’s vaccination programme.

The change in guidance came as the European Medicines Agency said it had established a link between rare blood clots in the brain and the AstraZeneca jab. The agency has not changed its guidance for the jab, saying its benefits outweigh the risks.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said men and women under the age of 30 should be offered either the BioNTech/Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine. The regulator is not restricting the AstraZeneca vaccine for any other age groups.

Regulators have been probing a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine already given to millions of people across Europe and rare but serious blood clots to the brain.

At least 16 European countries halted or limited use of the AstraZeneca vaccine last month, with most resuming its use after the EMA said its benefits outweighed its risks. A number of European nations still have age restrictions in place for the jab.

The side effect has been reported in the UK, with the medical regulator reporting at least 19 deaths in people who had taken the shot. Three of the people who died were under 30.

As well as the ‘change of clinical preference’ being outlined for adults under 30, the UK regulator also said pregnant women and those with a history of blood disorders linked to an increased risk of clotting should discuss the relative benefits and risks with a medical professional. 

The Chair of the Committee of Human Medicines, which has been working with the MHRA, has advised that the link between vaccine and clots is “getting firmer”, but that absolute proof will only come after extensive scientific work. The change in advice will not affect the timeline for the rollout of the vaccine, officials said.

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