The sister of a man who died from a rare blood clot on the brain after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine has urged the public to “keep saving lives” by continuing to receive the jab.
Neil Astles, a 59-year-old solicitor at Warrington council, was given his first dose on 17 March but died in hospital on Easter Sunday after suffering from 10 days of worsening headaches and loss of vision.
His sister, Dr Alison Astles, the subject leader for pharmacy at the University of Huddersfield, told the Daily Telegraph that Neil was “extraordinarily unlucky” but she wanted the public to continue taking the AstraZeneca vaccine because “fewer people will die”.
Astles died at Royal Liverpool University hospital on Sunday almost three weeks after his first dose of the vaccine.
Dr Astles said her brother’s diagnosis was “cerebral sinus thrombosis and subarachnoid haemorrhage” with “low platelets and extraordinarily high d-dimer”.
Dr Astles told Radio 4’s World at One that she was told by clinicians at the hospital they were 99.9% sure the clot was due to the vaccine, though his cause of death has yet to be officially recorded by the coroner.
But she said that as a pharmacist she understood “pharmacovigilance” (drug safety) and that the risk of dying from the vaccine was tiny.
According to the most recent data from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), up to and including 31 March 2021, there were 79 UK reports of blood clotting cases alongside low levels of platelets among people given the AstraZeneca vaccine. Nineteen of those people died.
By that date 20.2m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been given in the UK, meaning the overall risk of these blood clots is approximately four people in a million who receive the vaccine.
Asked by the BBC if she wished her brother had not received the AstraZeneca vaccine, Dr Astles said: “That’s easy to say. The difficulty in my situation is, as pharmacist I understand pharmacovigilance and I understand the processes that the MHRA go through in licensing medicines and the thoroughness of their investigations. And I also understand that no medicine is 100% safe. Every medicine we take is a balance of risk and benefits.”
She told the Telegraph it was important people did not lose faith in the jab. “Despite what has happened to our family, we strongly believe that everyone should go for their first and second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“Emotionally, we are completely and utterly furious. We are suffering. But there’s nothing in our minds to be really furious about. My brother was just extraordinarily unlucky.
“If we all have the vaccine a few of us might have a blood clot, but the evidence is that fewer people will die. We trust the process, we trust the regulator, and despite what has happened to our family, we don’t want people to be scared off. That’s the message we want to get across.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) altered its position on the vaccine for young adults on Wednesday following weeks of debate over whether the risk from blood clots from the vaccine outweighed those from catching Covid among younger people.
Healthy 18- to 29-year-olds who are not at high risk of Covid should have the option of a different jab if one is available in their area, the JCVI said.
Dr Astles told the BBC she decided to speak out after watching the press conference on Wednesday led by Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England.
She said she agreed with the professor’s message but said: “That is not a statistic or theory for me, that is actually what’s happened to my family.”
She urged anyone with prolonged headaches and sickness within 28 days of taking the AstraZeneca vaccine to seek medical advice. But she said she would never know if her brother would have lived had he gone to a doctor earlier, because by the time he got to hospital he had “catastrophic brain damage”.