How safe is AstraZeneca's Covid jab? How many died? MailOnline's Q&A

How safe is AstraZeneca’s Covid jab? What rare complications can it cause? Who is taking legal action against the pharma giant? All you need to know

  • As Brits take AstraZeneca to court we recount what happened with the Covid jab
  • READ MORE: How firm could face £90m lawsuit over rare blood clot side effect

AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine undoubtedly saved millions of lives. But, for some, the jab proved a source of despair rather than safety.

After the historic rollout started in early 2021, reports began to emerge of a series of deaths among recipients of the injection.

Investigations later revealed dozens of Brits had been injured or killed by a rare complication from the vaccine that caused them to suffer dangerous blood clots.

Now, as two cases are launched against the pharmaceutical giant seeking compensation, MailOnline answers all your questions on the AstraZeneca saga.

As survivors and the bereaved keep fighting for compensation, MailOnline answers all your questions on the AstraZeneca saga: What happened? Are there any ongoing health concerns? And what are victims fighting for?

How does the AstraZeneca jab work?

World-leading scientists from Oxford University began working on a Covid jab within weeks of the pandemic striking. 

That team, which included respected names in the field, like Professor Sarah Gilbert and Sir Andrew Pollard, eventually teamed up with pharma titan AstraZeneca, which promised to help run trials and mass produce any successful jab. 

Unlike rival jabs created by the likes of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which pinned their hopes on new mRNA technology, AstraZeneca opted for a tried-and-tested approach with ChAdOx1 (the vaccine’s scientific name).

It uses a weakened version of an adenovirus — a pathogen which causes a common cold in chimpanzees. This is genetically modified to be incapable of making humans sick.

On top of that, it also carries genetic material from SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes Covid. 

AstraZeneca’s Covid jab timeline 

January 2020: Oxford University scientists start working on a Covid vaccine after the World Health Organization declares the spread of the virus a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’

March 2020: Then Prime Minister Boris announced the first national lockdown. That same month, the Government invests £88million in the development of the Oxford vaccine

 April 2020: Alongside AstraZeneca, scientists start the first clinical trials of their new vaccine. This involved 1,000 volunteers in the UK

July 2020: Results from phase two trials of AstraZeneca’s jab are published

4 December 2020: Covid jab rollout begins with the Pfizer vaccine. Over-80s and care home workers are given priority

8 December 2020:  Phase three trial results of the AstraZeneca’s jab are published. These are what health officials will use to approve the jab for use in the UK

30 December 2020: AstraZeneca’s jab is approved for emergency use

4 January 2021: First AstraZeneca doses start being dished out. Brian Pinker, 82, is the first person to receive the jab outside of clinical trials

8 January 2021: Frontline NHS staff start being offered vaccines 

8 February 2021: Over-70s are called forward

14 February 2021: Roll-out opens up to Brits with underlying heath conditions, as well as the over-65s

28 February 2021: All over-60s are invited for jabs

11 March 2021: European countries start suspending use of the AstraZeneca jab after death of a 60-year-old woman from a blood clot

17 March 2021: Over 50s start being offered Covid jabs in the UK

19 March 2021: Several European countries reverse decision to suspend AstraZeneca jab after initial investigations find no link to reported blood clots 

31 March 2021: People living with vulnerable adults are called forward to get a Covid vaccine in the UK, even if they are younger than eligible age groups

7 April 2021: UK restricts the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to over-30s over a small but statistically significant risk of blood clots in younger people

30 April 2021: Over-40s are called forward for Covid jabs

7 May 2021: Restriction of the AstraZeneca vaccine is widened to include over-40s

August 2022: Government sources say they will not order anymore AstraZeneca Covid vaccines instead focuses on mRNA alternatives

March 2023: Dozens of patients and families launch legal action against AstraZeneca due to 

April 2023: Widower of a BBC presenter Lisa Shaw who died after having the vaccine said he has ‘no alternative’ but to sue AstraZeneca

4 August 2023: Anish Tailor, whose wife Alpa died in March 2021 after receiving her first AstraZeneca dose, filed a product liability claim against AstraZeneca at London’s High Court. His lawyer says he has nearly 50 other clients who will formally sue AstraZeneca in the coming months

17 August 2023: IT engineer Jamie Scott, who suffered a brain haemorrhage the day after his first AstraZeneca jab starts a legal case against the company. The law firm representing Mr Scott says it represents around 40 other individuals or bereaved families 

This teaches the body’s immune system how to fight the real virus.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine, given as two doses taken up to 12 weeks apart — was praised as a being a game-changer in the pandemic.

In contrast to its fragile, mRNA-based alternatives, which needed to be stored at sub-zero freezer units, it could be stored at domestic fridge temperatures. This made the distribution of the vaccine much easier, especially in poor countries without these facilities. 

The Anglo-Swedish firm also promised to initially distribute at ‘cost’, meaning unlike other jab makers, it didn’t make any profit. Its jab was also approximately five times cheaper, at around £3 a dose. 

What did original trial data show? 

Tens of thousands of volunteers including the UK and the US, willingly rolled up their sleeves to take part in original trials.

Heavily-scrutinised data suggested two doses of the AstraZeneca jab offered about 70 per cent protection against becoming ill. This meant developing any symptoms, as opposed to being hospitalised.

Other studies calculated that a single dose reduced the likelihood of hospitalisation by up to 94 per cent.

Officials in Britain approved it for public use on December 30, 2020, just weeks after data was published. 

First doses were dished out on January 4, 2021, less than a month after Pfizer’s burst onto the scene.

When the AstraZeneca jab was approved, then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was a ‘moment to celebrate British innovation’.

‘This vaccine will be made available to some of the poorest regions of the world at a low cost, helping protect countless people from this awful disease,’ he stated at the time.

‘It is a tribute to the incredible scientists at Oxford University and AstraZeneca whose breakthrough will help to save lives around the world. 

‘I want to thank every single person who has been part of this British success story.’

Were there known side effects at the time? 

Analysis of the phase 3 trial, the final hurdle needed to be cleared before any drug gets approved for widespread human use, noted no safety concerns.

Yet, like with all forms of medication, AstraZeneca’s jab carries a range of potential side effects.

Officials knew about mild ones thanks to the massive trials, with recipients mostly complaining of routine issues like headaches.

And people who were subsequently vaccinated were warned about them ahead of getting any needle in their arm. 

Common side effects, which health bosses say can affect more than 10 per cent of recipients, include fatigue, ‘flu-like’ symptoms, and pain in the arms or legs. 

Stomach pain, a rash and excessive sweating were uncommon, strikes roughly one in 100 people who get vaccinated.

Rare (approximately one in 1,000) issues include facial drooping on one side. Very rare (one in 10,000) side effects can see people paralysed.

So, what went wrong and when? 

Trials weren’t big enough to spot the complication which has sparked a huge legal fight in Britain.  

Vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT, can cause blood clots that have now been linked to dozens of deaths and far more injuries.

Opening the door for millions more Brits to get the jab, as the UK did during the first few months of 2021, effectively outed VITT. Officials spotted a small, yet significant, trend that allowed them to raise the alarm in the first week of April. 

How Downing St’s historic inoculation campaign was set-up also assisted in quickly detecting the unforeseen complication — and working out who was at most risk.

All Covid jabs, including AstraZeneca’s, were dished out to the most at-risk first. This meant prioritising the elderly, Brits with underlying medical conditions, and frontline health and care workers.

As a result, some younger people, who were later found to statistically have a higher risk of VITT, were given AstraZeneca as the logic at the time was to get these people as protected as quickly as possible. 

What is VITT?

This is the term given to an extremely rare blood disorder that can occur following AstraZeneca’s vaccination. 

It causes blood clots to form in various parts of the body, including the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, and the legs. It is an urgent medical emergency. 

These blood clots, like any others, can be deadly depending on where they form or if they break up and travel to parts of the body like the brain.

In a very small number of cases — about one in 100,000 in the UK — the vaccine can set off a chain reaction which leads to the body confusing its own blood platelets for fragments of virus. The shell of the vector vaccine — the weakened cold virus used to teach cells how to neutralise Covid — sometimes acts like a magnet and attracts platelets, a protein found in the blood. For reasons the scientists are still probing, the body then mistakes these clumps as a threat and produces antibodies to fight them. The combination of the platelets and the antibodies clumping together leads to the formation of dangerous blood clots

Blood clots in the brain can be especially dangerous, causing brain bleeds or strokes by blocking blood vessels, which can lead to permanent disability. Limbs can also have to be amputated if a blood clot cuts off the flow of oxygen to the body part. 

Thrombosis UK, a charity which aims to raise awareness about blood clots, says it can be fatal even if ‘treated appropriately’. 

Treatment involves immediate infusions of healthy antibodies, to stop the internal misfiring that causes the life-threatening condition. 

Blood-thinners are also given to treat the clots and prevent any new ones occurring. In some cases, surgery is necessary. 

Government estimates suggest blood clots occur from taking AstraZeneca’s jab in up to one in 10,000 people. 

READ MORE: Is AstraZeneca’s Covid jab ‘defective’? How firm that supplied 50million doses to the UK could face £90million lawsuit over rare blood clot side effect

IT engineer Jamie Scott suffered a brain haemorrhage the day after his first AstraZeneca jab, leaving him with permanent brain damage, and his wife Kate told The Mail on Sunday how the father-of-two, from Warwickshire, was left partially blind and struggles with daily tasks


For VITT specifically, the risk is thought to be greatest to the under-50s, with one in 50,000 affected. In over-50s, officials believe the risk is about one in 100,000.

What are the symptoms of VITT?

VITT symptoms usually start five-plus days after being jabbed, as opposed to being felt immediately after. 

Unusually severe and persistent headaches which might become worse when lying down or bending forwards are the most common sign. Victims have described them as being ‘thunderclap’ headaches, causing a blinding pain unlike anything suffered before.

These can be accompanied with changes in vision or nausea.

Another common symptom of VITT is seizures, weakness on one side of the body or a drop in level of consciousness.

Persistent pain in the tummy region, blood in the stools, chest pain and shortness of breath, as well as leg swelling, are other signs officials tell people to look out for.

How does the vaccine cause VITT? 

Researchers tasked with investigating the adverse reaction believe it occurs due to the modified cold virus lurking in the jab acting like a magnet to a type of protein in the blood called platelet factor 4.

Platelet factor 4 is normally used by the body to promote coagulation in the blood, in case of injury.

Then, in rare instances, the body’s immune system confuses platelet factor 4 with a foreign invader and releases antibodies to attack it in case of ‘mistaken identity’.

These antibodies then clump together with platelet factor 4, forming the blood clots that have become so heavily linked with the jab, according to their theory.  

How did the world react?

Discovery of the deadly complication sparked panic across the West, especially the EU, which had bought up millions of doses.

Countries like Denmark, Norway, Iceland, The Netherlands and Ireland pulled the jab entirely.

Other European nations, including Germany and France, restricted the jab to under-65s based on concerns over efficacy in older people. Once they learnt of the age-based risk, they U-turned and only offered it to over-55s.

The panic led to thousands of people shunning the jab when offered in Europe and further afield, in places like the Congo and Thailand. 

Britain itself eventually clamped down on its use and restricted it to the over-30s in April and then the over-40s in May, once the evidence became abundantly clear. 

Most of Europe eventually followed suit. Although the saga saw some leaders, like French President Emmanuel Macron, accused of playing political games after he called the jabs ‘quasi-ineffective’ in what some described as Brexit bitterness.

So did the risks outweigh the benefits?

Given its efficacy and the fact it cleared all the relevant hurdles without triggering any safety alerts, officials felt confident in approving AstraZeneca’s jab.

But when cases of VITT began to crop up, questions were immediately asked about the risk/benefit ratio, especially given that the complication was mainly striking younger Brits. 

Healthy younger people, who the virus barely posed a threat to, stood to gain much less from being vaccinated, compared to a more vulnerable elderly person.

So officials needed to weigh up the risks a person might suffer if they were to catch Covid, compared to the risk of complications from the jab. 

When broken down, University of Cambridge academics at the time estimated there would be eight ICU admissions prevented for every 1million 20 to 29 year olds given a jab. 

For comparison, the same analysis that spooked ministers into restricting the jab to just over-30s concluded that 11 people would be struck down with blood clots, if the same amount of jabs were dished out.

Concerns about blood clots grew and eventually saw the jab restricted in under-40s, too. 

But for older Brits, the scales tipped in the other direction.

This essentially meant that Covid presented a greater risk, meaning the vaccine was still recommended for them.

The graph shows the cumulative number of Covid jabs dished out in the UK since the pandemic began, the percentage of each age group which has had a jab (bottom left) and the number of each Covid vaccine brand dished out

Do we know how many Brits were killed? 

READ MORE: An 18-year-old aspiring paramedic, a rock musician and an award-winning BBC radio presenter: The ‘victims’ of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine

As families and survivors continue their fight for compensation, MailOnline highlights just some of those who have died

At least 81 Brits have died from blood clot complications linked to the AstraZenca jab, according to the UK’s drug watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Such deaths are flagged via the MHRA’s Yellow Card Reporting system which works by members of the public or medics flagging possible adverse reactions. This is the same way VITT was spotted in the first place.

The MHRA then investigates these reports to determine if the medication could be responsible, or if the event was unrelated or a coincidence.  

While deaths did occur anti-vaxxer claims that thousands have died from Covid jabs are considered way off the mark.

VITT deaths, and many more cases, have been reported in other countries, but a total global tally has not been put together.

How many were disabled?

No figures are provided for the number of people left disabled from AstraZeneca’s Covid jab.

But a Freedom of Information request (FOI) showed, as of April 24, 2023, 78 claimants had been notified they are entitled to a vaccine damage payment — the Government’s compensation scheme. 

Of the 78 claims, 32 were awarded on behalf of someone who has died. 

It means that 46 recipients were entitled compensation because they were left ‘severely disabled’ by the vaccine.

It should be noted that all figures quoted above could be underestimates and will not include those who don’t meet the ‘severely disabled’ criteria of the scheme — which is 60 per cent disability. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine is a genetically engineered common cold virus that used to infect chimpanzees. It has been modified to make it weak so it does not cause illness in people and loaded up with the gene for the coronavirus spike protein, which Covid-19 uses to invade human cells

Common side effects, which health bosses say can affect more than 10 per cent of recipients, include fatigue, ‘flu-like’ symptoms, and pain in the arms or legs. Stomach pain, a rash and excessive sweating were uncommon, strikes roughly one in 100 people who get vaccinated

Does this mean the jab was faulty? 

No. While the deaths from VITT were unexpected, this doesn’t mean AstraZeneca’s jab was faulty.

Although not perfect in terms of protecting against Covid, it still worked on a mass scale.

Millions of Brits got the life-saving jab without suffering any complications.

They then possessed protection from a serious Covid infection, which itself carries risks — especially when the vaccine was first deployed, at a time when the UK’s wall of immunity was so much lower than it is now.

Official estimates put the number of lives saved in the UK by Covid vaccines over the course of the pandemic at 120,000, though this isn’t broken down by brand. 

Globally, AstraZeneca’s jab is credited with preventing 6million deaths.

I got an AstraZeneca jab. Should I be worried about long-term health risks? 

Side effects from the AstraZeneca vaccine generally only occurred within the first four weeks of receiving it.

There is currently no evidence of a long-term risk from having had the jab, doctors insist. 

As jabs are given as a single dose at a time, experts claim adverse effects generally only occur a short time after receiving the injection — unlike with medication that people take for years.

Additionally, given the sheer quantity of people who received the AstraZeneca jab, some 50million in the UK and over 2.5billion globally, long-term effects would likely to have been spotted by now. 

I had a reaction to the AstraZeneca vaccine, what support is available?

People who have suffered a severe reaction or lost a loved one to a vaccine may be eligible for the UK’s Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme.

This consists of a tax-free sum of £120,000, though restrictions apply.

It is only available to the family of those who died or those left ‘severely disabled’ — defined as being at least 60 per cent disabled, based on evidence from a doctor — because of a vaccine.

However, this is not compensation in the technical sense, with the taxpayer footing the bill. 

Instead the scheme, established back in 1979, is meant to reassure people that, in the unlikely event something goes wrong, the state will provide support.

In theory, this is meant to combat vaccine hesitancy and encourage the public to get jabbed from various pathogens helping protect the nation from disease.

But critics of scheme have said it is arduous, stingy in terms of total amount payout, and cruel in its 60 per cent disability threshold. 

As it is not compensation, people who take the payment are still entitled to take legal action against the vaccine manufacturer if they choose, as some people affected by the AstraZeneca jab are. 

While they may be taking AstraZeneca to court, if damages are awarded it will be the UK Government, and by extension the taxpayer, that is likely to foot the bill. This is due to an agreement that was made to make the vaccines available so quickly.

What is the legal action AstraZeneca victims are taking and why? 

Around 90 claimants are known to be taking AstraZeneca to court over deaths and injuries they say are linked to the jab. 

Two test cases have now been launched in the High Court.

IT engineer Jamie Scott, who suffered a brain haemorrhage the day after his first AstraZeneca jab, leaving him with permanent brain damage, is one.

The other is has been brought by the widower and two children of Alpa Tailor, 35, who died after having the jab.  

The lawsuit is based on the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and will argue the vaccine was ‘a defective product’ that was ‘not as safe as consumers generally were reasonably entitled to expect’.

Mr Scott’s lawyers told The Telegraph they will argue that he suffered ‘personal injuries’, with an allegation that the jab was ‘defective’ and the efficacy of the vaccine had been misleading. 

AstraZeneca has reportedly denied causing Mr Scott’s injuries.

‘From the body of evidence in clinical trials and real-world data, the vaccine has continuously been shown to have an acceptable safety profile and regulators around the world consistently state that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of extremely rare potential side-effects,’ the company said.

If successful, vaccine damage payouts could be in the region of £1million each. 

With 90 British families in similar situations, the total bill could reach £90million.

Some of these people have already received a payment from Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme. Others are in the process of applying for a payment. Some have been told they are ineligible. 

The reasons why people are taking legal action are complex.

Some who are severely disabled due to the jab are facing huge ongoing medical costs, as well as being out of work with family members sometimes having to quit employment to provide them round-the-clock care. 

Rare (approximately one in 1,000) issues include facial drooping on one side. Very rare (one in 10,000) side effects can see people paralysed

Depending on a person’s age and expected life expectancy, these costs can rapidly eclipse the £120,000 offered by the Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme.

Others are, at least in part, pursuing the action as way of seeking justice for either those they have lost or lives that have been completely upturned by their injuries. 

It should be noted that every person MailOnline has spoken to involved in the action has distanced themselves from the anti-vaxxer movement.

Without exception, they insist they support and recognise vaccination as a positive public health action but want recognition of the price they paid as a result of the pandemic.

Who will have to pay if the action is successful? 

Likely the taxpayer. As part of the indemnity deal No10 signed with AstraZeneca, the company is likely to be spared from paying out compensation.

This indemnity was part of the agreement for rolling out the Covid vaccines so fast.

As the nation was trapped in lockdown in 2020, the Government was keen to get the jabs deployed as soon as possible once they were approved on official safety and effectiveness criteria.

Considering the sheer pace of the clinical trials the vaccines underwent, there was a risk that rare side effects from the jabs could be missed, or the risk miscalculated.

This, in theory, could make the companies behind the jabs vulnerable to legal action.  

So, indemnity was offered by ministers to get the vaccines off the production line as quickly as possible. 

In a note tabled before Parliament in January 2021, Mr Hancock said: ‘Willingness to accept appropriate indemnities has helped to secure access to vaccines with the expected benefits to public health and the economy alike much sooner than may have been the case otherwise.’

He also said, specifically on the AstraZeneca jab: ‘I would like to stress that the data so far on this vaccine suggests that there will be no adverse reactions, and so no liability.’

Are there any larger implications to the AstraZeneca jab saga?

The Covid vaccination campaign was one of the largest public health campaigns in British history.

Prior to the pandemic, the number of claims made to the vaccine injury scheme was miniscule, averaging about two per year.

To keep up with the demand posed by Covid jabs, the Government increased the number of staff managing the scheme from four to 80 this year. 

Campaigners hope the attention brought by the AstraZeneca case will spark a much-needed rethink of how the nation’s vaccine injured and bereaved are supported.

If Brits are left destitute from vaccine-derived injuries, experts fear this may only fuel vaccine hesitancy in the future, risking public health from a variety of preventable diseases.

It could also leave people vulnerable to a potential future pandemic from a novel virus, if some refuse the jabs out of fear that they, or their families, could be left financially ruined if something goes wrong.

Does Britain still use the AstraZeneca Covid jab?

About 50million doses of the jab were dished out in the UK in total.

While still technically approved, it has fallen out of favour with officials. Data shows the mRNA jabs, which have their own complications, are more potent against newer Covid variants.

And with no new doses being ordered for subsequent booster rollouts, it means the jab has been all but withdrawn in the UK.

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