New advice ‘plays into hands of anti-vaxxers,’ says ex-Tory leader; did PM breach ministerial code?

Downing Street Health and Education In the media

A former leader of the Conservative party has warned that the decision to offer under 30-year-olds an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine “plays into hands of anti-vaxxers”.

Sir Ian Duncan Smith said the new advice issued by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is “messy, confusing and very unhelpful” and risks jeopardising “all the hard work GPs are doing to persuade people, particularly those who are worried about getting the vaccine, to take it.”

Fears the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may be linked to rare blood clots has forced a “course correction” in the vaccination program said England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam.  He emphasised that cases are extremely rare and that the balance of risk still very much favours the vaccine.

The government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommends healthy adults aged 18-29, should be offered the alternative (Pfizer or Moderna) vaccine, after the UK medicines regulator said 79 cases of blood clots associated with low platelet cells in the blood have been linked to the Oxford vaccine. The MHRA said 19 people have died – three of whom were aged under 30. All 79 cases followed one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and affected 51 women and 28 men, aged 18-71.

Van-Tam urged people to stay confident in the Oxford jab, and said: “It remains vitally important that people who are called back for their second dose come for it, and it remains vitally important that all adults in the UK come forward for vaccination.”

Anti-vaxxers will say ‘I told you so’, says Smith

Former Tory-leader Smith said the new advice “will, I’m afraid, make it more difficult to persuade people to take it, even people who are above 30. Anything like this relies on confidence. I don’t understand what they thought they were doing.”

He continued: “And those people who are anti-vaxxers are now going to go and say ‘I told you so, we were right’. This is going to be very difficult and damaging. It plays into the hands of those who are trying their level best to disrupt the vaccination programme.”

The prime minister said: “We will follow today’s updated advice, which should allow people of all ages to continue to have full confidence in vaccines, helping us save lives and cautiously return towards normality.”

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not changed its guidance on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine having confirmed a link between rare blood clots in the brain and the jab. The EMA said the benefits still outweigh the risks.

The announcement comes on the same day that the UK’s first Moderna vaccine was administered in Wales. The government has ordered 17 million doses of the Moderna jab.

Did Johnson breach ministerial code with Khan comments?

In Downing Street, Boris Johnson is under more scrutiny with Labour calling for an investigation into the prime minister’s “verbal attack on the mayor of London during a televised government press conference on coronavirus”, according to a report in the Guardian.

Johnson has been accused of breaching the ministerial code in what Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner called a “political attack” on Sadiq Khan, the incumbent mayor and Labour candidate in the May 6 London mayoral election.

The ministerial code “clearly states that official facilities and resources may not be used for the dissemination of party political material”, said Rayner in a letter to the cabinet secretary Simon Case.

During Monday’s briefing – from the new £2.6 million media briefing room at Number 9, Downing Street – Johnson accused Khan of “blowing” Transport for London (TfL) finances during the pre-election ‘purdah’ period which restricts government activity in the run-up to an election.

Johnson’s comments about Khan were “unprompted” and “entirely unrelated” to the daily coronavirus briefing or any questions asked, said Rayner.

She has demanded the PM issues a public apology “for misusing public resources for party political gain and misleading the public”.

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