Covid vaccines are safe – Hackney’s public health boss reassures residents

City & Hackney’s public health director Dr Sandra Husbands. Photograph: Hackney Council

The borough’s public health boss has reassured residents that Covid vaccines are “safe” in response to as yet unproven concerns that the AstraZeneca jab may increase the chance of blood clots in a very small number of cases.

Dr Sandra Husbands, a doctor of 33 years and director of public health for Hackney and the City of London, says the risk of developing a blood clot is actually higher in someone who catches Covid than it is in someone who takes the vaccine.

Government guidance reads: “Although this [blood clotting] condition remains extremely rare there appears to be a higher risk in people shortly after the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Around four people develop this condition for every million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine doses given.

“This is seen slightly more often in younger people and tends to occur between four days and two weeks following vaccination.

“This condition can also occur naturally, and clotting problems are a common complication of Covid-19 infection. An increased risk has not yet been seen after other Covid-19 vaccines but is being carefully monitored.”

In a statement earlier this month, Dr Husbands said: “All three vaccines have been through rigorous safety assessments, in order to be licensed by the UK and overseas medicines safety regulators, which continue to monitor their effects as the vaccines are being rolled out.”

She added: “However, no medicines are without risks or side effects and there are some concerns that there may be a very low risk of a rare type of blood clotting disorder, with a low platelet count, due to the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

“There’s no firm evidence yet that the vaccine actually causes this to happen. But the regulators are taking this very seriously and investigating the possible link.

“Although it’s very rare – only 79 cases in 20 million people vaccinated in the UK (or four per 1,000,000), this blood clotting disorder seems to affect young women under 30 years old more than other people.

“Much more common is the risk of a blood clot for those who actually catch Covid-19, caused by the disease itself. Blood clots occur in seven to 11 in every 100 people who have Covid-19 – a much higher risk than with the vaccine.”

Dr Husbands points to advice from the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which states that “the benefits of prompt vaccination with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine far outweigh the risk of adverse events for individuals 30 years of age and over and those who have underlying health conditions, which put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease”.

The JCVI is currently advising that people under the age of 30 with no underlying health conditions be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine, if available. However, it may be possible for these people to have the AstraZeneca jab, should they want to be vaccinated earlier, by discussing the option with their GP.

Dr Husbands said: “If you are under 30 and not a front-line health or care worker and you’re not at higher risk of Covid-19, you have time to think about this, as you won’t be invited for vaccination until about July.”

She went on: “With the AstraZeneca vaccine, as with any medicine, there are very rare risks. So, if you get strange side effects in the days after your jab, such as a persistent severe headache, please call your GP or 111. In case of an emergency, if you have severe symptoms, such as breathlessness, call 999. 

“The World Health Organisation, European Medicines Agency and British medicine agencies have declared that the vaccines are still safe and effective to use in the fight against Covid-19, which is a highly infectious disease, which can be deadly or lead to long-term symptoms, particularly in young people.

“I have had my vaccination and I want to assure all residents that the vaccines are safe. When you are offered the vaccine please do take it, to protect yourself from coronavirus.”

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