A scientist who advises the government on the coronavirus pandemic has said he is “not worried one little bit” by safety concerns about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Professor Calum Semple, who sits on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), insisted the vaccine was “safe” after reports it has been connected to a rare form of blood clot among some adults who have taken it.
A trial of the vaccine in children has been paused while regulators investigate the reports, but Semple said the decision to pause had been made out of “exceptional caution”, and urged people to continue accepting the jabs.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Semple told LBC radio: “I’ll take myself, I’m 53, my risk of death from COVID is about one in 13,000, for me it’s a no-brainer, I need to have the vaccine.”
He later added: “This vaccine is safe. What do I mean by safe? You can look right, look left, look right again, cross a road, it’s safe to cross because you don’t see any cars [but] you can trip, you can stumble.
“Nothing is risk-free, but is the vaccine safe? I would say yes.”
Assessments are underway into the very rare and specific type of blood clot in the brain, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), occurring together with low levels of platelets (thrombocytopenia) following vaccination in adults.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) are expected to announce findings of their assessments this week.
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The UK’s regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is also investigating reports but has not confirmed when it will present its findings.
Both the MHRA – which said it had identified 30 cases of rare blood-clot events out of 18.1 million doses of the jab administered up to and including 24 March – and the WHO have said that to date the benefits of the vaccine in preventing coronavirus outweigh any risks.
Others have also rallied around the AstraZeneca vaccine in the face of the investigations into its safety.
Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases, told Sky News the vaccination programme should continue until more is known on blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine.
He said people in their “20s, 30s, 40s and 50s” are at risk of severe COVID “and there is an argument for vaccination to continue in those individuals because the rate of this blood clot disorder is extremely low, although slightly elevated against background levels”.
Asked if he would take the jab, he said: “I think that’s on balance at the moment – there’s still transmission of COVID, and there is a risk to all of us of being infected, particularly as the economy is being opened up and society’s opening up, we are at risk of getting severe infection.
“So I would certainly be going forward for that vaccine in the current situation.”
Professor Sir Kent Woods, former chief executive of MHRA, said he has “no reservations” about the vaccine, telling LBC: “The risks of COVID are much higher.”
Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said there is “urgency” over the MHRA concluding its investigations, adding that “no medicine is 100% safe”.
Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol who also sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said concerns over the jab are being “very thoroughly” investigated – and it “could potentially” affect the rollout of the vaccine.
Figures released on Tuesday showed a total of 5,496,716 people in the UK have now received both doses of a COVID vaccine and are fully vaccinated against the virus – the equivalent of 10.4% of the adult population.
Some 31,622,367 people (60% of adults) have received a first dose.
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