7 Apr 2021

Why we revealed MHRA was considering changing advice on Oxford jab – and how new policy will affect rollout


Since Monday when we broke the story that senior sources involved in Britain’s vaccine programme were so concerned about the number of younger people reporting blood clots after getting the Oxford  AstraZeneca vaccine that they might change the advice on who should take it, the country has been awaiting this crucial announcement.

Over the weekend sources told me of discussions at the very highest level – among government, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – about offering people in their 20s a different jab. Another well-placed contact revealed that the medicines regulator was being urged to restrict the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and an announcement would come within days.

My editor and I wrestled with the implications of running the story, concerned that raising questions about who should receive the vaccine might knock public confidence. The report we ran on Monday night was deliberately cautious in its tone. Nevertheless we were implored by a leading government figure not to run it just minutes before the programme aired.

Senior sources involved in today’s decision to offer the under 30s a different vaccine told me the dramatic change in policy would delay by at least a fortnight the plan to offer a jab to all UK adults by the end of July. Politicians will also be concerned about any impact on plans to release the country from lockdown.

With a hundred million doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine on order, Britain is very reliant on it.

Several countries on the continent have already restricted use of the Oxford jab. One government adviser told me Britain should have followed suit weeks ago.

For older age groups, the danger of death from Covid far outweighs the risk of side effects from the vaccine. Health experts are keen to maintain public confidence as the threat of a third wave of coronavirus looms – and to keep the risks in proportion.

The Oxford jab remains a lynchpin of the global fightback against Covid, nowhere more so than in the developing world. One senior source involved in today’s decision said any move to restrict its use there could end up leading to tens of thousands of needless deaths.