A decision to offer people under 30 an alternative vaccine to the AstraZeneca jab has prompted concern that some could shun the injection over fears about its safety.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, warned that the decision by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to advise an alternative jab for the under-30s could disrupt the UK’s vaccine programme and play into the hands of anti-vaccination campaigners.
“It will, I’m afraid, make it more difficult to persuade people to take it, even people who are above 30. Anything like this relies on confidence. I don’t understand what they thought they were doing,” he said. “And those people who are anti-vaxxers are now going to go and say ‘I told you so, we were right’. This is going to be very difficult and damaging. It plays into the hands of those who are trying their level best to disrupt the vaccination programme.”
The MHRA’s switch was “messy, confusing and very unhelpful” and risked jeopardising “all the hard work GPs are doing to persuade people, particularly those who are worried about getting the vaccine, to take it”, Duncan Smith added.
Another Tory MP, who did not want to be named, said: “A significant amount of people under 30 won’t take the AZ vaccine because of this statement.”
There are signs that the recent publicity over the apparent link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots, in Europe and now in the UK, is deterring some patients from accepting the jab.
One GP said: “People have already consulted about the blood clots worry and have decided to wait for more information. As we head into [vaccinating] the younger age groups my concern is that there will be more anxiety and uncertainty as a result of this for patients, and for [GPs], as we are their first port of call for advice.”
Women who are taking the combined contraceptive pill could also be reluctant to have the AZ jab as there was some evidence of a small increased risk of thrombosis, she added. However, there was no guarantee that anyone seeking to get the Pfizer jab instead of the AZ product would be able to do so, unless the local body overseeing the administering approved it, she said.
Ruth Rankine, director of the NHS Confederation’s primary care network, said fear about blood clots were not putting off large numbers of people from having their vaccine. “Our members have not reported a significant impact on numbers turning up for their vaccination, and we hope that by clarifying the recommendations and their basis, today’s announcement will be helpful in boosting people’s vaccine confidence.”