Doctors urge young people to get alternative Covid jabs following decision to limit AstraZeneca vaccine to over-30s
DOCTORS are urging young people to get their Covid jabs and "not be put off" by the decision to offer under-30s alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine due to rare blood clots.
Northern Ireland BMA chief, Dr Tom Black, said he was aware that some "vaccine hesitancy" could develop following yesterday's announcement by the UK medicines regulator about a possible link between the jab and "extremely rare" brain clots.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks overall.
Almost 500,000 AstraZeneca doses have been administered in the north - around half the overall total - since its rollout began.
Dr Black, a GP in Derry's Bogside, encouraged those who had received their first AstraZeneca jab to get their second, adding it was important "not to mix and match vaccines".
And while Covid infection rates had dramatically dropped in the north - the seven-day rate currently stands at 29 per 100,000 of population - the leading medic said that it should be lower so that the virus can be "near eliminated".
"Doctors have been watching this very carefully and waiting for the professional guidance on AstraZeneca from MHRA and JCVI. They haven’t proven there is a link between the clots and the vaccine but certainly we’ll have to keep a very close eye on it," Dr Black said.
"We haven’t had any vaccine hesitancy in my practice in the north west. People in Derry are very pro-vaccines. They understand you take a very small risk to get a big benefit.
"But think it might develop some hesitancy among the underage groups because the balance between the benefit and the risk is different for them. Older people get huge benefits because their risk is so high.
"Younger people aren’t at the same risk of admission to hospital and indeed death from Covid...But if they’re under 30 and they’re offered their first vaccine, they will be offered a choice of either Pfizer or Moderna when it becomes available."
The BMA chief added: "We are in much better place in terms of the infection rate in NI. The infection rate today is 29 per 100,000 - but the BMA would like to see it down to 10.
"Last summer in Derry, it was 10 and within six weeks went to 1000. We would like to see it at 10 for a near elimination strategy. I don’t think we’re ever going to get to zero Covid, you can’t do that unless you’re Australia."
Public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally last night also encouraged people to continue getting the vaccine as there is "so much virus about".
The Belfast-born president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine said he believed the regulator was right in limiting the vaccine to the over-30s.
"They’ve made the correct decision. If I was under the age of 30, I absolutely would opt for another vaccine," Dr Scally told The Irish News.
"I think people should be reassured because the regulators have done a very good job in detecting what is really a very, very small number of cases and analysing them and coming up with a reasonable approach.
"We’re lucky in that the UK has so much vaccine that we’re not dependent on AstraZeneca and there’ll be plenty more coming. At the moment when there’s still virus around, you’re much better being vaccinated.
"They've taken the right decision in offering alternatives. I very much hope it won’t put anyone off if they have the chance to go and get their vaccine."
West Belfast GP Dr Michael McKenna also urged people to be aware of the symptoms of clots and to contact their doctor if they develop a persistent headache or vision problems within days of their first jab.
By the end of last month, the MHRA recorded 79 rare blood clots in people after their first vaccination - 19 of whom had died. The cause of death was not established in every case.
In a statement, the Department of Health last night said theAstraZeneca vaccine will "continue to have a vital role in saving lives, reducing hospitalisations and helping Northern Ireland move out of lockdown".
"Those aged 18-29 who do not have an underlying medical condition will be offered an alternative vaccine when this is available," they said.
Updated advice will be issued to health professionals and the public.
"We will also be assessing the potential impact on the vaccination programme’s timescale," they said.
"It is very important that everybody who has already had their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine gets their second dose of the same vaccine, irrespective of age. The only exception is for the very small number of people who experienced blood clots with low platelet counts following their first dose."