AstraZeneca in £80m Covid jab compensation claim set to be one of biggest battles of its kind

Kerry Williams mourns the loss of her husband Ben
Kerry Williams mourns the loss of her husband Ben - Russell Sach
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The claims of 35 alleged victims of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine have been lodged against the pharmaceutical giant in what threatens to be one of the biggest legal cases of its kind.

Lawyers have issued the claims amounting to tens of millions of pounds in the High Court over complications they say were caused by the vaccine, months after launching two test cases.

The cases highlight what is claimed to be a very rare side effect that has been linked to the deaths of at least 81 people and caused serious harm to hundreds more.

The claims allege the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca in partnership with the University of Oxford, is “defective”.

The vaccine has been linked to a newly identified condition that causes blood clots called Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombocytopenia and Thrombosis (VITT). In about one-in-five cases, patients who contracted VITT died.

The Telegraph understands that up to 40 more claims are expected to be lodged. The total compensation bill, should AstraZeneca lose, amounts to about £80m, making it one of the most expensive vaccine litigation cases ever.

The Government has underwritten any legal action brought against AstraZeneca as part of its deal in rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine programme, which received regulatory approval at the end of December 2021. Manufacturers of the other Covid vaccines have also received Government indemnification.

Sir Jeremy Wright, the former attorney general, is urging Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, to intervene and settle the cases before they reach court.

One of his constituents, Jamie Scott, suffered a “significant permanent brain injury”.

Payment is wholly inadequate

Sir Jeremy told The Telegraph: “The public need the confidence to know they will be looked after if in the tiny, tiny minority of cases where the vaccine has gone wrong.

“And that confidence is damaged if the Government does not step in and settle these cases.”

Under the Government’s Vaccine Damage Payment scheme, people who suffer adverse reactions that lead to death or a 60 per cent disability are entitled to a one-off payment of £120,000 tax free. But lawyers argue that sum is wholly inadequate in many of the cases where people have died or been forced to give up lucrative careers.

The scheme has paid out in about 150 cases, of which all but a handful occurred after receiving the AstraZeneca jab. Sir Jeremy maintained that in cases where the Government had already paid damages, causation had effectively been proven.

One of the new cases has been lodged by the widower of Nicola Weideling, an employee of Oxford University, who died aged 45 in May 2021 after having the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. A coroner has already ruled that the cause of death was VITT.

Her husband Kurt has urged AsatraZeneca to settle the claim. His wife died after developing blood clots and suffering a “significant brain bleed”.

AstraZeneca is fighting the claim. In its defence, it has denied its vaccine was “defective” and has insisted the claims against the company are “confused” and “wrong in law”. The pharmaceutical giant is being sued under the Consumer Protection Act amid claims the vaccine was not as safe as recipients were led to believe.

AstraZeneca points out the vaccine is estimated to have saved six million lives in its first year of rollout. The vaccine is no longer used in the UK as part of the booster programme.

Shock death of a previously healthy 37-year-old husband

By Investigations Team

Ben Hollobone on holiday in the US
Ben Hollobone on holiday in the US - Russell Sach

When the hospital called to say that her husband had died, Kerry Williams felt complete shock.

Only half an hour before, medics had told her that he was going in for surgery, having been diagnosed with suspected appendicitis

“It was completely off the radar. It wasn’t in my range of possibilities”, said Mrs Williams, now 36.

Following the news, she ended up wandering the streets, unable to comprehend how her previously healthy, 37-year-old husband had suddenly died.

Staff at the hospital who had been treating Ben Hollobone appeared to feel the same.

“The whole hospital, you could tell, the staff were just really distraught. I know everyone says this when they have lost someone, but his character was just so warm.” said Mrs Williams, tears filling her eyes as she remembers what happened.

Mr Hollobone started to feel unwell at the end of February 2021. The symptoms occurred after an AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, which he had taken to protect more vulnerable family members and because he believed it offered a “way out” of lockdown.

At first, his symptoms were similar to a bad cold, feeling cold and shivering. Later, he developed extreme headaches, a rash on his leg and a limp.

Wrongly diagnosed with appendicitis

By the middle of March, his wife was becoming increasingly worried. He was sweating and had severe stomach pain and looked extremely unwell.

He was admitted to hospital and – wrongly – diagnosed with appendicitis. Mr Hollobone, who worked as an engineer, was then transferred to another local hospital for further treatment, which was complicated because he also had low platelets, meaning he was at risk of bleeding.

His wife kissed him goodbye and said she would be right behind him. Unfortunately, because of lockdown rules at the time, it was the last time she saw him.

Doctors continued to try in vain to improve his platelet levels.

Despite being previously told that operating would be too difficult and treating the condition with antibiotics might be a better alternative, Mrs Williams received a call saying her husband was being taken in for surgery. Shortly afterwards, the hospital called again to say he had died.

After receiving the news, Mrs Williams went to the hospital to see her husband’s body. It was at this point that she started to question if his death might be linked to the jab.

“I was saying when I went to visit him, I think this is the vaccine. But I was made to feel like I was absolutely bonkers,” she said.

Even friends thought she was reaching the wrong conclusion. “No one believed me. I was pacified. Friends thought I was putting pieces together and coming up with a number,” she told The Telegraph.

Mr Hollobone died on March 17, 2021, and in the days and weeks that followed, articles about a link between blood clots and the jab started to emerge.

When Mrs Williams saw stories describing the suspected link, she felt like she was starting to find answers. But despite the growing evidence, proving her husband died as a result of the vaccine was not straightforward, with an initial report by a pathologist saying Mr Hollobone had died because of lack of blood to a vital organ.

A consultant at the hospital where Mr Hollobone was treated also appeared to be wondering why the young man had died so suddenly and carried out a “deep dive” to try to piece together what had happened.

Mrs Williams said that he produced a 100-page report which involved going through all the possibilities and eliminating them, which was later used as part of the hospital’s review and inquest.

A year after Mr Hollobone died, a coroner concluded that his death “was caused by the vaccination”. His death certificate listed blocked blood flow to his bowel, blood clot and vaccine-induced thrombocytopenia and thrombosis as the causes of death. The latter is now known as VITT.

For Mrs Williams, this was for her the “missing piece” she was seeking.

But even though this has provided some solace, the impact of losing him has had far-reaching consequences.

Ben and Kerry enjoy a Christmas together
Ben and Kerry enjoy a Christmas together - Russell Sach

The couple, who lived in Polegate, East Sussex, met when she was 18 years old and Mrs Williams felt that he was her “absolute soulmate”.

“I don’t know life without Ben”, she said. “He was my best friend, we loved travelling and travelled the world together.”

Before he became unwell, the couple had been hoping to start a family.

“I had been delaying it for a long time”, Mrs Williams said. “But we were at the point where we were trying. I had been quite particular about the circumstances, but I had got to a place where I wanted to be in my career, we were financially secure, we had a house – everything had fallen into place. But now I’ve lost my chance to have a baby with Ben.

“I’m 36 now, and the likelihood of me ever meeting someone that I ever feel comfortable to do that with is just near impossible. It’s a huge loss for me.”

As the loss has sunk in, feelings of anger have started to emerge, with Mrs Williams saying that she feels she and other bereaved families have been “completely ignored”.

She now wants to ensure that people like her are given a voice to ensure they get justice for what happened, which is why she has decided to take legal action, along with dozens of other people who have now lodged a claim against AstraZeneca.

“He did what he thought was right and has paid the ultimate price in my eyes”, said Mrs Williams.

“The reality is this could have happened to any one of us. I don’t think the public seems to get that association or connection. You could be standing in my shoes right now.”

A spokesperson for AstraZeneca has previously said patient safety was its “ “highest priority””, that its vaccine, called Vaxzevria, had “ “continuously been shown to have an acceptable safety profile”” and that regulators around the world “ “consistently state that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of extremely rare potential side effects””.

In response to previous cases which have been lodged, the company has denied any liability and has insisted that the vaccine is not “ “defective””.

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