Health Secretary urges people to 'listen to the regulators' that AstraZeneca jab 'is safe'

Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke

Matt Hancock has urged people to "listen to the regulators" and said the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine "is safe".

The health secretary's comments come as countries around Europe have paused rollout following reports of blood clots - though no link has been established with the vaccine.

Mr Hancock said: "The Oxford/AstraZeneca jab is safe - over 10 million people have had it - and that's what the British regulator, the World Health Organization, and the EU regulator have all said.

"We keep the effects of these vaccinations under review all the time and we know that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab is saving lives in the UK right now.

"So if you get the call, get the jab".

On Tuesday, the European Union’s medicines regulator said there is “no indication” that the coronavirus vaccine is the cause of the reported blood clots.

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The announcement comes after world health leaders met to discuss reports of blood clots caused by the jab - despite most medical organisations saying there is no danger.

The World Health Organization's (WHO) global advisory committee on vaccine safety and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) met on Tuesday to discuss fears the AstraZeneca jab can cause blood clots.

Emer Cooke, European Medicines Agency (EMA) executive director, said its experts will be meeting on Thursday to draw their conclusions on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

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She told a virtual press conference on Tuesday that the committee’s conclusions will be made public immediately afterwards, and added: “We have pulled together an ad hoc meeting again today to help us evaluate these cases with all the surrounding information that the member states will have.

“The experts will then carry on their assessment and again will meet on Thursday to come to a conclusion on the full information that has been gathered and to advise us as to whether there are any further actions that need to be taken.

“We will inform the public of the outcome immediately after this meeting."

A small number of cases of blood clots in people having the jab have been reported in Europe.

This has led several European countries including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and Norway to halt rollout of the vaccine.

ITV Science Editor Tom Clarke said on Monday said the reason the UK medical agency had not raised the issue was because blood clots were happening at "such low low numbers they're lost in the statistical uncertainty."

He said countries with low levels of Covid like Australia had the room to be overly cautious about any potential setbacks, but with the continent dealing with another surge of the virus and the overwhelming threat of further deaths many European countries were in a "difficult situation."

The WHO, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the EMA have all said there is no evidence the jab causes blood clots.

ITV Science Editor Tom Clarke discusses the difference between the EMA and the MHRA

An EMA spokesman said "many thousands of people develop blood clots annually in the EU for different reasons", adding that the incidence in vaccinated people "seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population".

According to AstraZeneca, about 17 million people in the EU and the UK have received a dose of the vaccine, with fewer than 40 cases of blood clots reported to date.

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the decision to pause rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab could be a "disaster" for Covid-19 vaccine uptake in Europe.

Europe has already been suffering from a lack of enthusiasm for the AstraZeneca jab, with confusing messaging about its effectiveness on the elderly leading many populations to believing it was inferior to the Pfizer vaccine.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

This has led to many countries being unable to use all of their AstraZeneca jabs despite the dire need to vaccinate the population.

Asked what he would say to those in the UK who are booked to receive the vaccine, Mr Openshaw told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: "I really wouldn’t be worried at the present time.

"I think it is very clear that the benefits of being vaccinated at the moment so far outweigh the possible concern over this rather rare type of blood clot.

"It really is a completely one-sided argument statistically that we need to be vaccinating.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

"I think it is a disaster for the vaccination uptake in Europe, which is already on slightly unsteady ground in some countries."

Asked why he thought the temporary suspension of the vaccine had been taken up by so many countries, he said: "I think the committees are probably afraid of not making that decision to pause on the basis that they might be in some way thought culpable if they didn’t, but actually these are such rare events."

In the UK, medical experts have defended the use of the vaccine while Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was "no reason at all” to stop its rollout.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would accept the jab "without hesitation".

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride also urged people to retain confidence in the jab, as he received his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday.

Mr Johnson said the MRHA was "one of toughest and most experienced regulators in the world".

"They see no reason at all to discontinue the vaccination programme… for either of the vaccines that we’re currently using," he said.

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