COVID-19 vaccination – benefits outweigh risks

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the World Health Organization have all reiterated that the benefits of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in the prevention of COVID-19 far outweigh any possible risk of blood clots amongst those groups currently eligible to receive their first vaccination, as well as all of those due their 2nd dose.

Offering further reassurance, the EMA said that these extremely isolated cases “should be listed as very rare side effects”.  In those aged 18-29, an alternative vaccine will be offered when the time is right for vaccinating this group, and GPs will ensure the appropriate vaccine is offered, and any questions are answered.  The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has stated that this change in course has been made – not because there is a high risk to the under 30s from this vaccine, but due to them having taken an approach of the utmost caution – which should provide great reassurance, and is quite normal in the rollout of a global vaccination program.   More information can be found here:

COVID-19 vaccination and blood clotting – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

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COVID-19 vaccination and blood clotting

The UK vaccination programme has been very successful with more than 30 million people vaccinated and more than 6,000 lives already saved.

What is the concern?

Recently there have been reports of a very rare condition involving blood clots and unusual bleeding after vaccination. This is being carefully reviewed but the risk factors for this condition are not yet clear.

Although this condition remains extremely rare there appears to be a higher risk in people who have had the first dose of the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine. Around 4 people develop this condition for every million doses of AZ vaccine doses given.

This is seen slightly more often in younger people and tends to occur between 4 days and 2 weeks following vaccination.

Benefits and risks of the vaccination

AgeRisk from COVID-19Benefit of vaccinationRisk of vaccination
Over 50 years of age or having underlying medical conditionsLow – catching infection, passing on infection1 dose – more than 80% reduction: deaths, hospitalisation, intensive careUncommon – sore arm, feeling tired, headache, general aches, flu like symptoms
 Moderate – Long COVID2 doses – more than 95% reduction: deathsExtremely rare – clotting problems
 Very high – hospitalisation, intensive care admission, death  
30 to 49 years of ageLow – hospitalisation, intensive care admission, death1 dose – between 60% and 70% reduction: catching infection, passing on infectionCommon – sore arm, feeling tired, headache, general aches, flu like symptoms
 Moderate – Long COVID2 doses – more than 85% reduction: catching and passing on infectionExtremely rare – clotting problems
 High – catching mild infection, passing on infection  
18 to 29 years of ageVery low – hospitalisation, intensive care admission, death1 dose – between 60% and 70% reduction: catching infection, passing on infectionVery common – sore arm, feeling tired, headache, general aches, flu like symptoms
 Moderate – Long COVID2 doses – more than 85% reduction: catching and passing on infectionExtremely rare – clotting problems
 Very high – catching mild infection, passing on infection  

This condition can also occur naturally, and clotting problems are a common complication of COVID-19 infection. An increased risk has not yet been seen after other COVID-19 vaccines but is being carefully monitored.

What to look out for after vaccination

Although serious side effects are very rare, if you experience any of the following from around 4 days to 4 weeks after vaccination you should seek medical advice urgently:

  • a new, severe headache which is not helped by usual painkillers or is getting worse
  • a headache which seems worse when lying down or bending over
  • an unusual headache that may be accompanied by:
    • blurred vision, nausea and vomiting
    • difficulty with your speech
    • weakness, drowsiness or seizures
  • new, unexplained pinprick bruising or bleeding
  • shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling or persistent abdominal pain

What you should do next

Over 50 years of age or with underlying medical conditions

All older adults (including health and social care workers over 50 years of age), care home residents, health and social care workers (includes unpaid carers and family members of those who are immunosuppressed) and adults with certain medical conditions were prioritised in the first phase of the programme because they were at high risk of the complications of COVID-19.