Friday Five

AstraZeneca next steps, Covid mental health concerns and new breast cancer treatment – this week’s Friday Five

Alternative to AstraZeneca for under-30s

Under-30s in the UK will be offered an alternative to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine where available, says UK government vaccine advisory group JCVI.

A review by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) found a “reasonably plausible” link to the vaccine and rare blood clots, with the risk of developing a blood clot at approximately four in one million. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said the disorder should be listed as a very rare side effect.

For comparison, Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines, highlighted the higher rate of blood clots as a consequence of Covid-19 itself. He said that 7.8% of coronavirus patients suffer blood clots on the lungs, while 11.2% will suffer deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the legs.

For healthy adults under 30, their risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid is low and the risk of harm related to the vaccine may be slightly higher in this age group. Offering an alternative vaccine aims to balance any overall risk. However, both the EMA and MHRA confirmed that the benefits “continue to far outweigh the risks” for all age groups.

Read the full story in the BBC.

A third of people with severe Covid develop a mental health condition

Within 6 months of suffering from severe Covid, 34% of people were later diagnosed with a psychiatric or neurological condition, according to a recent study.

The research, published in the Lancet Psychiatry, looked at health records from 236,379 patients. It found a 44% increased risk of subsequent neurological or mental conditions post-Covid compared with the flu.

Prof Paul Harrison, who led the study at the University of Oxford, said: “These are real-world data from a large number of patients. They confirm the high rates of psychiatric diagnoses after Covid-19 and show that serious disorders affecting the nervous system (such as stroke and dementia) occur too. While the latter is much rarer, they are significant, especially in those who had severe Covid-19. Co-author Dr Max Taquet, noted that further research is required to explain why this is, and for future prevention and treatment.

Read the full story in the Guardian. 

Free twice-weekly testing available

From today (9th April), the general public will be able to use to at-home coronavirus tests twice-weekly for free.

Lateral flow testing kits will be available to order online and to collect from community testing sites, workplace programmes, and local pharmacies. The test can detect cases without having any symptoms. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “Around one in three people who have Covid-19 show no symptoms, and as we reopen society and resume parts of life we have missed, regular rapid testing is going to be fundamental in helping us quickly spot positive cases and squash any outbreaks.”

However, there are some concerns that as the infection levels decrease, the rate of ‘false positives’ – when a test shows as positive despite the person not being infected, could mean that people will have to self-isolate unnecessarily.

Read the full story in the BBC.

Breast cancer treatment time cut from 2.5 hours to 5 minutes

NHS to offer breast cancer injection reducing the time patients spend in hospital from 2.5 hours to 5 minutes.

Following a deal with pharmaceutical company Roche, Phesgo will be rolled out across England. People with HER2-positive breast cancer, which makes up around 15% of breast cancers, will be eligible for the new treatment. It is given as a combination injection of two drugs, pertuzumab and trastuzumab, rather than two separate IV infusions.

Crucially during the Covid pandemic, NHS England highlighted that this “significantly cuts the COVID infection risk for cancer patients by reducing the amount of time spent in hospital and frees up time for clinicians in chemotherapy units”.

Read the full story in the PharmaTimes.


Quote of the week

The rollout of the Moderna vaccine in the UK began this week, with the first doses given in Wales. Elle Taylor, 24, was the first to receive the jab. This was her reaction:

“I’m very excited and very happy. I’m an unpaid carer for my grandmother so it is very important to me that I get it, so I can care for her properly and safely.”

Read more at the BBC.