AstraZeneca clinics cancelled in south of Ireland as under 60s to receive alternative vaccines

The Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Republic has ordered that all AstraZeneca vaccine clinics in the south be cancelled today after a recommendation to the government that only those 60 and over should get the vaccine.

Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 10:23 am

While in the north of Ireland, it has been recommended that people aged 30 and over can get this vaccine, in the south Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn last night announced the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) was recommending Vaxzevria/AstraZeneca be restricted to people twice that age threshold, 60 and over.

The vast majority of people in the north are currently receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, while in the south other vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna are more prevalent.

The HSE in the south said last night it had written to Hospital Groups and Community Healthcare Organisations to advise that all AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccination Clinics planned for today, Tuesday April 13th, should be cancelled in light of updated guidance received from the NaIAC, and the Department of Health.

The AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. (Pacemaker)

In a statement, the HSE said: “Anybody due to attend an Astra Zeneca clinic is therefore advised not to do so. We will be in contact with patients in due course to rearrange their appointment. We apologise for any inconvenience.

“Following full consideration of the updated guidance, the HSE will advise further in terms of wider implications for the administration of the vaccination programme.”

Dr Glynn said on Monday that the revised recommendations followed on from the European Medicine Agency (EMA) concluding an investigation last week into a number of very rare, unusual blood clots occurring with low platelets in people following vaccination with Vaxzevria (formerly COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca).

“The EMA’s safety committee (PRAC) concluded that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects but that the benefits of this vaccine continue to outweigh the risks.

“The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) have today revised recommendations for the use of Vaxzevria/AstraZeneca. In line with these recommendations:

*all of those aged 60 years and older can get any authorised COVID-19 vaccine, including Vaxzevria/AstraZeneca

*Vaxzevria/AstraZeneca is not recommended for those aged under 60 years including those with medical conditions with very high or high risk of severe COVID-19 disease.”

For people who have already received Vaxzevria/AstraZeneca in the south:

*those aged 60 years and older should continue to receive their second dose 12 weeks later as scheduled

*those aged under 60 years with an underlying condition (those identified in cohort 4 and cohort 7) should continue to receive their second dose 12 weeks later as scheduled

those aged under 60 years with no underlying condition (therefore not identified in cohort 4 and cohort 7) should have the scheduled interval between their first and second doses extended to 16 weeks to allow for further assessment of the benefits and risks as more evidence becomes available

*those who have developed unusual blood clots with low platelets after the first dose of Vaxzevria/AstraZeneca should not be given a second dose.”

AstraZeneca recently pointed out that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) in March reaffirmed the benefits of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca continue to far outweigh the risks.

AstraZeneca said patient safety remains AstraZeneca’s highest priority and the company has robust processes in place for the collection, analysis and reporting of adverse events and these are shared with regulatory authorities around the world.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland the Department of Health said the AstraZeneca vaccine will continue to have a vital role in saving lives, reducing hospitalisations and helping the region move out of lockdown.

In a statement issued earlier this month the Department said: “In line with latest MHRA and JCVI advice, the AZ vaccine will be rolled out on a phased basis to people aged 30 and over in Northern Ireland, as supplies permit. It will also continue to be made available to adults of all ages who have underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

“Those aged 18-29 who do not have an underlying medical condition will be offered an alternative vaccine when this is available. This is in line with expert JCVI and MHRA updates issued today. These followed reports of an extremely rare potential adverse event of blood clots and low platelet count following vaccination with the first dose of AstraZeneca - although this has not yet been established.

“MHRA, the UK’s expert regulator for medicine and vaccines, and the EMA have made clear that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks for the vast majority of adults.

“The JCVI has similarly stressed that that the benefits of prompt vaccination with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine far outweigh the risk of any adverse event for individuals 30 years of age and over and for all those who have underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease.

“The expert advice to people aged 30 and over, and to adults of all ages who are vulnerable to COVID-19, is clear - get the AstraZeneca vaccine to protect yourself from the COVID-19 virus.

“The Department of Health in Northern Ireland will be updating advice to health professionals and the public, in light of the updated MHRA and JCVI statements issued today.

“We will also be assessing the potential impact on the vaccination programme’s timescale.

“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.”

COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca was co-invented by the University of Oxford and its spin-out company, Vaccitech. It uses a replication-deficient chimpanzee viral vector based on a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) that causes infections in chimpanzees and contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein. After vaccination, the surface spike protein is produced, priming the immune system to attack the SARS-CoV-2 virus if it later infects the body.