From tomorrow, anyone aged between 18 and 29 who has been scheduled to have the AstraZeneca vaccine will have their appointment cancelled and they will be told to contact their GP to discuss their preference.
It is thought the cancellations will affect several thousand people who were booked for a vaccine, including younger health and social care workers, unpaid carers and people living with relatives who have a compromised immune system.
On Wednesday, concerns about the possible link between the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab and rare blood clots triggered a change in advice from the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which said anyone under 30 should be offered an alternative vaccine as a precaution.
The change was made to reflect the reduced risk from the coronavirus to those under 30. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the overall risk from the virus far outweighed the risk from the vaccine for most patients. It comes after the MHRA identified 79 cases of rare blood clots in patients who had the vaccine, including 19 deaths.
The JCVI said it was not recommending that any vaccinations be stopped, but NHS England’s decision to cancel all existing AstraZeneca vaccinations for the age group will effectively do just that until those affected can rebook their appointments.
In a letter to NHS leaders, NHS England’s director for the vaccine programme, Emily Lawson, said existing appointments from 9 April onwards would need to be cancelled immediately.
She said: “For those who have a first dose appointment at a vaccination centre or community pharmacy on or after 9 April, booked through the National Booking Service, these appointments will be cancelled centrally. For those booked via a local booking system, these appointments must be cancelled locally.
“Individuals will be asked to contact their GP team to discuss the benefit and risks to them of receiving the AstraZeneca or another vaccine.”
She added: “If, following a conversation with a clinician, an individual chooses to go ahead with the AstraZeneca vaccination, all vaccination sites should make this option available. If an individual chooses to have another vaccine, the NHS will put appropriate arrangements in place.”
In locally led vaccination hubs, patients opting for another vaccine will be rebooked in a clinic using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the coming four weeks. For hospital hubs, NHS England said Pfizer jabs should be offered as first doses for anyone in the original nine at-risk groups, those under 30, or anyone with underlying conditions.
NHS England said it would advise local services how to access more Pfizer vaccines in the coming weeks.
The change comes after the NHS stopped social care workers, NHS staff and carers from being able to book a vaccination via the national booking system. In a separate letter, the NHS said that change was being made because of supply issues with the vaccine.
The UK is currently experiencing a drop in supply of vaccines, but the government has said it remains on target to vaccinate all adults by the end of July.