Saturday 27 November 2021

Government urged to rethink AstraZeneca age limits, as vaccine roll-out slows

Photo: Depositphotos.com

The government’s decision to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine on people under the age of 60 has led to calls from health experts and private individuals for people to be given the right to decide for themselves.

The Dutch health council recommended the move because of the risk of developing a rare type of blood clot, even though the European Medicines Agency says the vaccine’s advantages outweigh any risks.

The decision means thousands of people under the age of 60 who had been offered the jab because they have prior health conditions have been told their appointments will not now go ahead.

The Netherlands has so far vaccinated some 2.1 million people, out of an eligible population of some 14 million.

Dick Willems, professor of medical ethics at the University of Amsterdam, told Trouw on Saturday that it would be logical to leave the choice up to people themselves, as long as they are aware of the advantages and disadvantages.

While the disadvantages are serious, the advantages of being vaccinated are also considerable, he said. ‘You would not only be less sick or die because of coronavirus, but you are also helping protect others and contribute towards society getting back to normal again.’

Haarlem pharmacist Hanneke Luttikhuis says she was very surprised by the government’s decision. ‘We let people decide when it comes to other medicine,’ she told Trouw. ‘Your doctor tells you that they are prescribing a medicine and that it has these side effects. And the patient makes a choice based on that information.’

Luttikhuis has now started a petition ‘stop the vaccination stop’ in an effort to gather support for a free choice. The petition calls on health minister Hugo de Jonge to remove all age limits on the vaccine and ‘let people decide.’

‘Compared it to the birth control pill,’ she said. ‘The risk of thrombosis is bigger than with the AstraZeneca vaccine… and women have the choice whether to take it or not.’

Amsterdam family doctor Bart Meijman told broadcaster NOS: ‘We are angry about the decision not to give AstraZeneca to the under-60s. The health council has made itself responsible for far greater damage to health than the very rare complications with this vaccine. This advice is very damaging.’

A spokesman for the health ministry said that the decision had been taken on the basis of the health council recommendations. ‘Letting people decide for themselves would be going against that,’ the spokesman said.

Side effects

Meanwhile, other experts have told broadcaster NOS that there may now be too much emphasis on the side effects, which are a normal part of vaccine development.

Thrombosis-related complaints have also been reported in connection with the Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen vaccines as well as AstraZeneca, the broadcaster points out.

Immunology professor Marjolein van Egmond told NOS that rare side effects were only to be expected, adding that some Covid-19 patients have also developed thrombosis as well.

‘You can never eliminate all risks,’ she said. ‘You have to make sure that you weigh up the advantages against the disadvantages. And in this case, the risk is very small.’

Doctors

Meanwhile, DutchNews.nl has been told by several family doctors that people scheduled to be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab are failing to turn up because they are worried about the risks.

The seniors lobby group KBO-PCOB has also urged the government to improve its communications, saying it has been flooded with phone calls and emails from concerned elderly people.

To fill the gaps, some doctors are allowing people not yet scheduled to be vaccinated to turn up at their surgeries in the hope they can get a jab early.

‘I consider myself happy that we had a 50% turnout,’ one Amsterdam doctor said. ‘We’ve been vaccinating friends and family so as not to waste anything.’

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