Q Radio News/PA
People under the age of 30 in Northern Ireland are to be offered alternatives to the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.
The Department of Health confirmed the move on Wednesday after the UK medicines regulator said there was a possible link between the jab and “extremely rare” blood clots.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks overall.
While it has not concluded that the vaccine causes rare brain clots, it says the link is getting firmer.
The MHRA said the balance of risk for the AstraZeneca vaccine is very favourable for older people but “more finely balanced” for younger groups, who do not tend to suffer serious Covid illness.
Professor Wei Shen, chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the recommendation to prefer other vaccines to AstraZeneca for the under-30s was “out of the utmost caution” rather than because of “any serious safety concerns”.
The Department of Health has said the AZ jab will continue to play a “vital role in saving lives, reducing hospitalisations and helping Northern Ireland move out of lockdown”.
In a statement, it 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.”
UK regulators, along with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), have made clear that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks for the vast majority of adults.
The Department of Health statement added: “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.”