In recent weeks, the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been the topic of much debate. The jab has been linked to a handful of cases of rare blood clots and several European countries, including Germany, France and Italy, have halted its roll out.
Today, the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation recommended that under-30s should be offered an alternative vaccine - either the Pfizer or the Moderna jab. The UK has bought 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and the immunisation programme is already underway in Wales. However, many key workers or medically vulnerable people under the age of 30 have already received the vaccine - despite the roll out being halted among their peer group.
Following the announcement, two people who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine share their thoughts...
'At 29, blood clot fears have left me weighing up the risks of my second AZ jab'
By Dr Natasha Rickett, 29, scientific consultant, London , pictured above
Due to an underlying condition, I was lucky to get my first AstraZeneca jab at the start of March despite being only 29. I had been hopeful to get it as soon as possible, wanting to protect myself, as well as my 61-year-old dad and my partner, who’s a teacher and coming into contact with hundreds of students each week.
Most of my friends are super eager to get vaccinated, and will take whatever jab is pushed their way. But in recent weeks, as news about clotting has come to the fore, some have called me asking for advice - I have a PhD in viral outbreaks, and worked on the response to the Ebola crisis in Guinea.
I have seen first-hand how lives can be saved with a vaccine, and have done my best to allay friends' fears. But being a couple of months off my 30th birthday - before which I'll receive my second AZ dose, while friends just a few months older will receive a different jab entirely - has of course left me weighing up whether the risks are worth it.
For those in my age group around four in a million people who get the vaccine will be affected by blood clots. The risk of you getting seriously ill from Covid is much, much higher than that. I know several people in their twenties and thirties who have suffered horrendously with long Covid, and that in itself has made me of the mindset to avoid contracting the virus at all costs.
The difficulty is that the human brain isn’t suited to thinking in millions. It’s hard to wrap our heads round how low the risk of blood clots really is. Realistically, for us under-30s, the main risk of the vaccine is feeling a bit ropey afterwards. I had flu symptoms for about 24 hours after I got mine, feeling so hot and cold that I couldn’t sleep for a night, but there's no questioning what I'd choose between that and actually having the virus.
Some people have been put off by how quickly the vaccine has been developed, but that’s not taking into account the advances we’ve made in science recently (some of which I saw firsthand in my work). I felt that getting vaccinated was part of my responsibility to protect my older relatives and the nation at large, so we can reopen as quickly and safely as possible.
We can't ignore the risks at play, but when I turn up for my second jab at the end of next May, I'll consider being fully vaccinated by 30 a pretty good birthday present.
As told to Helen Chandler-Wilde
'I had the second jab this week - and couldn't be more delighted'
By Joanne Patch, 29, communications manager, Somerset
When I was invited for my first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine back in February, I couldn’t have been more delighted. I'm classed as “extremely clinically vulnerable”, because I take immunosuppressants to manage my rheumatoid arthritis; I’ve been shielding since March last year in rural Somerset while looking after my newborn son, Arthur. With no support from family and friends for the past year, the vaccine was finally the light at the end of the tunnel.
I received my first dose of the AstraZeneca jab on my son’s first birthday in February - I had no side-effects, just pure relief. In the weeks that followed, I started to read about the links between rare blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that countries in Europe were suspending their use of it until further analysis could be carried out.
However, this didn’t faze me: I take the contraceptive pill, and have undergone multiple surgeries and a c-section, all of which carry a risk of blood clots higher than that which is currently associated with the AstraZeneca jab. I’ve also taken medications that come with a range of side-effects for my whole life, so I’m used to measuring up the risks. Some of my friends are frontline workers, so they have also received the AstraZeneca jab. They don’t seem to be concerned either.
I had my second dose of the vaccine on Tuesday, the day before an announcement was made about the jab’s safety. Today, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said that under-30s will be offered an alternative vaccine. But I still think the benefits of having the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh the risks. If I hadn’t already had my second dose, and I was given the option to wait another few months and have a second dose of Moderna, I would still take the AstraZeneca if it meant I could have it sooner.
The vaccine has given me a glimpse of normal life again and I'm grateful to have received it so quickly - even if that comes with a small risk.
As told to Alice Hall