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Hertfordshire's director of public health backs AstraZeneca vaccine

Hertfordshire's director of public health has backed the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and said he is looking forward to receiving his second dose.

Professor Jim McManus, in charge of the county council's response to the pandemic, said he was convinced the benefits outweighed any danger of rare blood clots.

He said: "I have had that vaccine and I will have a second AstraZeneca [dose] even if the risk of blood clots is proven."

director of public health Jim McManus. (45975044)
director of public health Jim McManus. (45975044)

Under-30s in the UK are set to be offered an alternative jab as a result of growing concerns across the world.

The UK drugs regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), found that by the end of March, 79 people had suffered rare blood clots and 19 of those patients died, although there was no proof the jabs caused the condition.

Because 20 million doses have been administered, this new data could indicate a four-in-one-million risk of developing a blood clot and a one-in-a-million chance of dying.

AstraZeneca vaccine. Picture by Mecha Morton
AstraZeneca vaccine. Picture by Mecha Morton

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the link between the vaccine and the complication is "plausible" but not confirmed and Prof McManus said: "It's a theoretical risk – blood clots also happen with Covid-19."

"Hands down, no question from me, I will take the second dose of the vaccine."

He added that rather than undermine the vaccine programme, the concerns proved that the safety systems in place were working.

He urged Herts residents to continue coming forward for immunisation. "If there's an issue, the MHRA will act," he said.

Lateral flow tests (45975145)
Lateral flow tests (45975145)

His focus is on controlling the virus during that roll-out, and from this week, the county council is taking control of the test and trace system and promoting a new initiative for the general population to take a rapid lateral flow test for Covid-19 twice a week.

Around a third of people with the virus are asymptomatic and capable of infecting up to 400 other people in a week.

There have been 76,280 coronavirus cases in Hertfordshire and 8,162 in East Herts to date. Of these, 142 and seven respectively occurred in the last seven days, but because it takes time for tests to be processed, excluding the last five days can give a better idea of case numbers.

That means there have been 302 cases in the last (less provisional) week in Hertfordshire, resulting in an incidence rate of 25.4 cases per 100,000 population, and 17 in East Herts, or 11.4 cases per 100,000.

Prof McManus expects numbers to rise following Easter and the easing of restrictions on households and individuals mixing outside, with further pressure on the reproduction number from Monday (April 12) when non-essential retail is allowed to open as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's roadmap to recovery.

He said: "We are expecting an increase in numbers after every step of the roadmap because it's only sensible to do that and we have tried to plan for that.

"The key message is there will be a small increase in numbers, but if we keep doing what we've been doing we can keep that very small."

Some experts have predicted another serious spike in cases in the summer or autumn, but Prof McManus said: "A massive third wave is not inevitable, it's avoidable."

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