Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said that “vaccines don’t save lives if they’re in fridges” as he sought to reassure the public after a dozen European countries suspended the vaccine over isolated cases of blood clotting.
Appearing at a Downing Street press conference, he referred to comments by the European Medical Agency (EMA), which said there was “no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions”.
The regulator said on Tuesday it was “firmly convinced” that the benefits of the AstraZeneca jab outweighed the risks, but a “very rigorous analysis” was ongoing.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was due to receive his vaccine shortly and that it will “be Oxford AstraZeneca”, in a show of support for the jab.
Prof Van-Tam told the briefing: “Behind the scenes, there is a lot of work going on to look at whether there is a signal in relation to what we call venous thromboembolic events, clots, VTE for short.
“There’s a lot of evidence emerging now that is reassuring, that there is no overall excess signal or increased risk.
“I expect, without prejudice to their absolute findings, those to be the final conclusions of the EMA and the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) in due course.
“So, no evidence of increased risk, but as you heard from Professor Ramsay, a lot of evidence that the vaccine is actually saving lives.
“That’s the really important thing, that we push on with this, and I think from the enthusiasm of the patients I’ve vaccinated, I see the enthusiasm of the British people to push on with this.
“Because vaccines don’t save lives if they’re in fridges. They only save lives if they’re in arms, and that’s a really important fact.”
Number 10 said Mr Johnson was expected to receive his Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine later this week, while the number of people to have received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in the UK had passed 25 million.
It comes after a leading expert said people across Europe would die from Covid-19 as a direct consequence of the decision to halt rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Professor Jeremy Brown, from the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the move by several European countries to suspend the vaccine over blood clot fears was “not sensible” and “not logical”.
He told Good Morning Britain: “There is the concern that what’s happening in Europe might make people in the UK less confident in the AstraZeneca vaccine, unnecessarily so, because it’s perfectly safe.”
Sweden and Latvia have followed countries including Germany, France, Italy and Spain in temporarily suspending AstraZeneca jabs in light of a small number of reports of bleeding, blood clots and low blood platelet counts.
The World Health Organisation on Wednesday again reiterated its belief that the vaccine was safe, although investigations were ongoing.