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Department of Health statement on AstraZeneca roll-out


The AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine will continue to have a vital role in saving lives, reducing hospitalisations and helping Northern Ireland move out of lockdown.


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.


MHRA, the UK’s expert regulator for medicine and vaccines, and the EMA have made clear that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks for the vast majority of adults.


The JCVI has similarly stressed that that the benefits of prompt vaccination with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine far outweigh the risk of any adverse event for individuals 30 years of age and over and for all those who have underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease.


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.


BMA Northern Ireland has said the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine still outweigh the risks for the majority of patients.


Dr Alan Stout, chair of the BMA's Northern Ireland general practitioners committee, said:


“The risk of developing a blood clot post-vaccine remains an extremely rare event, and the benefits of being vaccinated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid-19 still outweigh the risks for the majority of the population."

He added: “We welcome that the JCVI is adopting a cautious approach by being clear from the outset on this change in direction with regards the vaccine programme roll-out to the under 30s.


"We are reassured that the Department of Health is correctly taking today’s findings on board by confirming it will offer our patients the vaccine most appropriate to their age group and so we can continue to progress what has been an overwhelmingly successful vaccination programme so far.


“Covid-19 is a still circulating in our community, so the importance of having the vaccine must not be underestimated.”