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The Telegraph

Britain could be in for a rough ride with the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, but there’s no need to panic

No one should panic, but we need to brace ourselves for a difficult week or two as regards the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. On Tuesday, Germany became the latest in a growing list of countries, including Canada and France, to suspend use of the vaccine in younger age groups. In Germany the cut off is 60, while in Canada and France only those age 55 and above are now receiving the jab.

Unfortunately, the issue is no longer political and is unlikely to be batted away as such. Germany’s medical regulator announced on Tuesday it had received a total of 31 reports of rare blood clots in recent recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Nine died and all but two of the cases involved women aged 20 to 63, the Paul Ehrlich Institute said.

The issue involving blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia, a low blood platelet count, is the same one which caused many EU countries to temporarily halt the use of the jab earlier this month. Based on the data available at the time, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) concluded there was not enough evidence to establish a link between the problem and the vaccine, and recommended it continue to be used. The benefits of inoculation greatly outweighed the risks for all age groups, it stressed.

The problem now is that more data is flowing in. On Tuesday, a team of European researchers published a not-yet-peer-reviewed preprint which looked at nine patients in Germany and Austria who developed thrombocytopenia and clots following vaccination. “The AZD1222 vaccine is associated with development of a prothrombotic disorder that clinically resembles heparin-induced thrombocytopenia but which shows a different serological profile”, they said. Not surprisingly, regulators in the UK, Europe and North America are now all racing to better understand if an association between the jab and the condition really exists and, if so, at what rate it occurs.

It is this second part of the puzzle which will prove crucial as all medicines carry some risk. The real question is whether or not the benefits will continue to outweigh the risks. According to UK data, the risk of someone between 18 and 49 being hospitalised after becoming infected with the now dominant UK variant of Covid is around 1,200 in 100,000 (1.2 per cent).

The risk irrespective of infection status stood at about a third of that over the last year.