AstraZeneca vaccine use for under 30s being investigated
The Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine caused great concern across the EU last month over reports that the vaccine caused blood clots, causing many countries to suspend its use until investigations were complete. Following investigations, regulators confirmed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe to use and countries have resumed the rollout.
However, reports have since arisen stating that potential blood clots could be linked to age, with younger people being more at risk. This week it was confirmed that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it was ‘considering restriction’ but no action or definitive decision has been made.
Presently, the data remains unclear, though there is the potential that younger people under the age of 30 could be given an alternative vaccine, though medical professionals are reluctant to damage public confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine, given the rise in its negative publicity.
Dr June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive, stated “our thorough and detailed review is ongoing into reports of very rare and specific types of blood clots with low platelets following the Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca. No decision has yet been made on any regulatory action.”
When the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine first emerged last year, it was stated that a single dose could significantly reduce the risk of transmission and protect against infection by UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
A study conducted by Oxford University researchers in 2020 found that a single dose of their vaccine offers up 76% protection against the virus for 12 weeks and reduces the spread by 67%.
Researchers also said that the level of protection offered following a second dose jumps up to 82.4% following a 12-week intermission, significantly higher than the 54.9% registered during a six-week lull.
UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock celebrated the news, saying the report supported the UK government’s strategy to distribute the first dose to as much of the population as possible and extend the time by which the second dose is received.
Most nations opted to implement a much shorter wait time between vaccine doses; however, Oxford’s findings show the benefits of delaying the second dose.
However, Mr Hancock expressed concerns over new variants emerging in the UK, which are thought to be more contagious and could have the capacity to cause milder infections.
However, Oxford University and AstraZeneca researchers state that the vaccine offers 75% efficacy against the UK variant of COVID-19, though its effectiveness against the Brazilian and South African variant remains to be seen.
AstraZeneca/Oxford manufacturing vaccine that fights new strains
As new strains of COVID-19 began to emerge, one of the lead researchers on the Oxford vaccine project, Dr Pollard, said that vaccinologists were already manufacturing an adapted version of the vaccine, to target COVID-19 mutations.
While he warned that it was ‘tough to know’ which mutations or variants would pose the most significant risks to public health in 2021, he confirmed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca team would have a vaccine ready before the end of 2020.
Professor Pollard said the manufacturing process would be significantly quicker than the first vaccine production. Instead of developing an entirely new product, they only needed to edit the original vaccine’s genetic sequence to target altered spike proteins.
According to Oxford University, the new COVID vaccine could be used as a booster for those already inoculated or as part of a new vaccination programme.
While the current vaccines offer protection against coronavirus, governments were worried that they will be less effective against new mutant strains.
AstraZeneca/Oxford’s announcement comes after the team published its new study on the efficacy of its vaccine, which they insist can reduce transmission by two thirds after the first dose.
According to the latest government data, over 30 million Brits have received their first vaccine dose, while over 5 million have received both, putting the UK in good stead to fully lift restrictions from 30th June.
The UK has experienced one of the most successful vaccination programmes in the world, significantly ahead of the EU. The rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccination had provided a much-needed boost to the British pound (GBP) this year, following post-Brexit concerns and the third UK national lockdown.
UK coronavirus cases continue to fall
Following news that thousands of people in the UK were failing to follow self-isolation instructions, coronavirus cases in the UK are continuing to fall. As of 5th April 2021, there were 2,762 new cases in the UK, down from 4,654 a week previously.
Baroness Harding previously stated that approximately 20,000 people across the UK were failing to self-isolate, despite being told by contact tracing.
She said that most people broke the rules due to a lack of communication and understanding of what should or should not be done. She urged the UK government to clarify self-isolation guidelines and simplify instructions to make it easier for the public to understand what is expected of them.
Baroness Dido Harding also said that the financial strain of self-isolation was another factor, especially for people in the country’s most deprived areas.
The government has previously been condemned for not doing enough to tackle the impact of COVID-19 in more impoverished areas of the UK.
Julian Tang, a virologist of the University of Leicester, warned that “failure to control the circulation of the virus could lead to the UK becoming a “melting pot” for new mutations.”
Several MPs, particularly Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to give deprived communities more generous financial support, especially for poorly-paid key workers who have been unable to self-isolate.