AstraZeneca vaccines for Under-40s paused at pharmacies in Northern Ireland : Dept. explains why

The Department of Health has confirmed that people under 40 are no longer being offered the AstraZeneca vaccine at pharmacies due to increased supply of alternatives.

Monday, 21st June 2021, 2:15 pm

Speculation had been mounting as to why pharmacies across Northern Ireland were told that they should no longer offer first dose AstraZeneca jab appointments to people aged under 40.

Up until now people under 40 were able to choose whether to try to book at one of the Trust hubs for the Pfzier/BionTech vaccine or for the AstraZeneca at a local pharmacy.

Pharmacies will continue to roll out AstraZeneca for people aged 40 and over and to those of all ages awaiting their second dose, including those aged 18-39 who have already had their first vaccine.

Health Minister Robin Swann. (PressEye)
Health Minister Robin Swann. (PressEye)

The DoH has previously advised: “If you are under 40 and wish to make an informed decision to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine there are slots available at the SSE Arena and at participating community pharmacies.”

A DoH spokesperson however told the Journal on Monday: “Changes to the vaccine supply and increased availability of vaccination slots at Trust vaccination centres means there are now more options to receive an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine for those aged 18 to 39 years of age, in line with JCVI advice. Therefore it has been decided to temporarily pause the Citizen’s choice option for those aged 18-39 years of age to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine via community pharmacy.”

There had been some concerns locally that the new changes may have been linked to the previous announcements regarding the preference for use of alternative vaccines for those under 40, as no statement was made to explain the change. At least one local pharmacy took to social media to inform people of the change.

The JVCI’s updated advice relayed in early May related to reports of extremely rare adverse events of concurrent thrombosis (blood clots) and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) following vaccination with the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.

The JCVI at the time updated its risk/benefit advice in relation to age groups, in light of low incidence of disease and current and projected availability of alternative vaccines. In light of these factors, Pfizer was its recommended vaccine for under 40s but those in this age group were also advised that they could still choose to get the AZ vaccine if an alternative was unavailable or if they made an informed choice to do so.

For those aged 40 and over, details of participating pharmacies and how to book are online at: covid-19.hscni.net/community-pharmacy-covid-19-vaccination-service.

People aged under 40 can book their first dose appointments at Foyle Arena and the other regional Trust vaccination centres at Omagh Leisure Centre/ Lakeland Forum/ South Lake Craigavon/ Seven Towers Ballymena/ RVH in Belfast at www.nidirect.gov.uk/covidvaccine or telephone 0300 200 7813.