Scots are being reassured the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine is safe after UK regulators said there was a possible link with “extremely rare” blood clots.
National clinical director Professor Jason Leitch said the vaccination programme was vital to driving down Covid deaths and is urging people to keep going for their jabs.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that while it has not concluded the vaccine causes rare brain clots, the link is getting firmer.
However, it also insisted the benefits of the jab still outweigh the risks overall.
On Wednesday, the regulators recommended that people aged under 30 should be offered Pfizer or Moderna as alternatives to the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine as the balance of risk is more finely balanced for younger age groups who did not tend to suffer serious Covid illness.
Prof Leitch said he hoped concerns surrounding the vaccine don’t last long and is confident the public will feel more reassured once they see the advice and the data.
He told STV News: “If you end up in intensive care with Covid, you have a one in four chance of a life-threatening blood clot, so your risk of Covid is still the biggest risk.
“That’s why the vaccination programme should continue, and continue at pace, so the best way of protecting yourself from Covid is the Covid vaccination.
“If you are under 30 we are going to protect you from Covid but we’re going to give you the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine, that’s the only thing that has changed.
“Everybody else, the risk-benefit balance is still heavily in favour of giving you the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
More than 2.5m people in Scotland have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, and Leitch stressed it was the best way for people to protect themselves.
He said: “We divide the world into decades in clinical medicine because it’s just the neat way of deciding how things work. So you have to have the cut off somewhere rather 28-and-a-half, you have to choose decades.
“So the regulators and scientists looked really carefully and at under 30 the risk-benefit balance just moves enough for them to say ‘because we’ve got an alternative, we should use the alternative’.
“In countries where there is no alternative, they would have said keep going with the Covid vaccination. But we have an alternative and they are suggesting we use it for that age group.
“All of Covid has been about risk and benefit and the most important thing is to try and protect yourself from Covid.”
Prof Leitch said he will be going for his jab appointment on Friday, and he added: “I don’t care which one I get and that’s the advice I’d give to everybody else.”
Meanwhile the First Minister has said she will “not have any hesitation” about getting the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine when she goes for her first jab next week.
Nicola Sturgeon added she is “hopeful” the decision to offer younger people an alternative product will not have a “significant impact” on the target of offering all Scots their first jab by the end of July.
She is due to receive her first dose on April 15.
Sturgeon said: “I don’t know which vaccine I will get offered, but if I am offered the AstraZeneca vaccine I will take the AstraZeneca vaccine and I will not have any hesitation in doing so.
“I will be absolutely happy to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, if that is what is offered to me.”
Regulators have recommended that people aged 18 to 29 should be offered the Pfizer, Moderna or other vaccines that become available as the programme continues to rollout across the UK.
The MHRA said across the UK up to March 31, there were 79 reports of blood clots accompanied by low blood platelet count among people who had had their first dose of the vaccine, out of around 20m doses given.
Of these 79 patients, 19 people have died, the regulator said, although it has not been established what the cause was in every case.
The figures suggest the risk of rare blood clot is the equivalent to four people out of every million who receive the vaccine.
The MHRA said those who have had their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should still get their second.
Sturgeon added: “The risk – if I can call it that – that has been assessed and led to the advice yesterday is very, very, very, very small. The blood clotting issue is very, very, very rare.
“If you get the AstraZeneca vaccine today or tomorrow, or in my case a week today, it will be one of the least risky things you do in the day, because the risk is probably lower than crossing the road, and things like that.”