The AstraZeneca (AZ) Covid vaccine rollout was a huge success story — the first such programme in the world.

It was an effective vaccine, manufactured in partnership with scientists at Oxford University, which helped save six million lives and got Britain ­moving again after months of lockdowns.

We all know that. We’ve been told enough times.

But what’s less well-known is that for a very small number of desperately unlucky people in the UK, who received the jab, it had a catastrophic effect — resulting, so their lawyers claim, in at least 81 deaths — many of those ­people in their 30s and 40s — and causing serious harm to hundreds more.

This has been blamed on a newly identified condition called vaccine-induced immune thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (VITT) that resulted in blood clots — in the brain, lungs, arteries, bowel — and in a fifth of cases, death.

Charlotte Wright holds a photo of her husband Stephen, who died in 2021 because of complications from  the Covid vaccine

Charlotte Wright holds a photo of her husband Stephen, who died in 2021 because of complications from  the Covid vaccine 

Good Health first highlighted the plight of those affected by this rare reaction — and their fight for justice — in April 2023. Now, following two test cases, the claims of 35 alleged ­victims of the AZ vaccine have been lodged in the High Court. Another 20-odd will be added next month.

With potential damages of about £80million, this could one be of the biggest legal cases of its kind in this country.

Yet it’s also arguably one of the most under-reported. Because while the ­victims and their families have been seeking answers and justice for years, few have wanted to listen, or question the ­success narrative. Even those affected have been effectively silenced.

Solicitor Sarah Moore, from Leigh Day, the law firm representing ­claimants, says: ‘They couldn’t tell relatives or friends; they couldn’t speak in the playground about it.

‘They didn’t want to discourage others from getting the vaccine because they knew it was a rare outcome. And if they did speak out, they were labelled as anti-vaxxers.’

Last week, the issue made headlines again when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was confronted by an angry ­audience member on TV.

The man claimed he was a ­victim of Covid vaccine injury — though it’s not clear if he was given the AZ ­vaccine — and told Mr Sunak: ‘I want you to look at the pain, trauma and the regret I have in my eyes. We’ve been left with no help at all.’

This is a sentiment shared by the dozen AZ vaccine claimants I recently contacted. Some, like Tony Hall — a former pharmacist and fantastically fit cyclist, golfer and skier — now need need round-the-clock care.

Ashley Baxter, 52, spent a month in hospital, was off work for 12 weeks, nearly lost her bowel and has never regained her fitness.

Others are grieving family ­members, and now picking their way through the rubble of their old lives.

Charlotte Wright’s husband Stephen, 32, died on April 26, 2021. They had two boys, Izaac, then six, and baby Elijah. Charlotte was on maternity leave when Stephen died.

Gareth Eve with his wife Lisa Shaw - who was an award-winning DJ for BBC Radio Newcastle - on their wedding day

Gareth Eve with his wife Lisa Shaw – who was an award-winning DJ for BBC Radio Newcastle – on their wedding day

Gareth Eve’s wife Lisa Shaw, 44, was an award-winning DJ for BBC Radio Newcastle. ‘She was a shining star and my best friend,’ he said. Lisa died on May 21, 2021. Their son Zachary was just six.

Les Bounds, from Axminster, lost his son Adam, 41. ‘He was fun, fit, loved by everyone and incredibly vivacious,’ says Les. And a father to a 16-year-old son.

Kam Miller’s husband of 27 years, Neil, died on March 23, 2021. He was a technical analyst and was adored by everyone.

Common symptoms with all those who suffered were blinding headaches, nausea, dizziness, slurred speech — all caused by life-threatening blood clots.

Victims were pumped full of ­steroids and blood thinners, or underwent plasma exchanges (a procedure to clean the blood). Some needed craniotomies, where sections of the skull were removed under anaesthesia to relieve the pressure on their swelling brains.

To make things worse, this all happened during lockdown, which meant that they were alone when they were rushed to hospital, and still alone when they were transferred from one specialist unit to the next, as medics grappled with this strange new condition.

Charlotte’s husband, Stephen Wright — the first known victim of VITTS — was a devoted father and clinical psychologist, about to start his dream job at Great Ormond Street Hospital when he was given the AZ vaccine on ­January 16, 2021.

The first jab in the UK had been administered just 12 days earlier.

Initially, his symptoms were flu-like. But within days he had a vicious headache that didn’t ease with painkillers, and by day nine he developed pins and needles in his left arm, slurred speech and couldn’t walk straight. In a panic, Charlotte called an ambulance.

She recalls: ‘I couldn’t go. We said goodbye in the lounge with the boys upstairs asleep in bed.’

At 4 am, the hospital called to say they were transferring him to King’s College Hospital’s neurology department. Six hours later, she was given shattering news.

Stephen’s platelets (which help blood to clot) were so low they couldn’t operate, as he’d bleed to death. His pupils indicated significant brain damage. They would do a brainstem test (to measure brain activity). If he failed it twice, they would declare him dead.

Charlotte says: ‘He was one of the kindest people that you’d ever meet. An amazing father. My missing piece.’ Stephen’s death certificate cited ‘natural causes’.

Tony Hall, who ran his pharmacy business with wife Jane, had his AZ jab towards the end of January 2021. He was 58 and beginning to wind down the business so and he and Jane could travel, cycle, play golf and have more time to look after their aged mothers.

By the time he presented in A&E with a splitting headache and ­seizures, news of VITT was already circulating — one of the first things medical staff asked was if he’d had Covid or a Covid vaccination in the past few days.

Tony also had very low platelet levels and suffered a bleed on the brain. He was put on a ventilator, had a craniotomy and spent six weeks in a coma.

Jane was not allowed to visit for two months, and when she finally saw him he had lost 20 kg. After a further four months in hospital and ­residential rehab, he finally made it home in the autumn of 2021.

But in July 2022 he had to be rushed back to hospital after another huge brain bleed, and was there for another four months.

‘Now walking is a challenge,’ he tells me. ‘I need a stick. I can’t drive, and I get very anxious and frustrated not being able to do the simplest things. And I get very muddled — sometimes I’ll put my shoes on before my trousers.’

His NHS physio entitlement ran out long ago; the couple now pay £106 a week for private sessions.

They have had to sell their house, buy and adapt a bungalow, give up the business — and Jane has become his full-time carer.

Like all VITT victims, Tony was entitled to £120,000 compensation under the vaccine damage payment scheme — paid by the Government, which had agreed to indemnify AZ for any vaccine-related claims.

But to claim this for a loved one’s death, VITT has to be on the death certificate.

It took Charlotte Wright two years of hard battling to get husband Stephen’s death ­certificate changed. Others had the same fight — and the payouts, which should have taken six months, often took much longer.

Charlotte says: ‘He was the breadwinner. I’d always supported him so that he could pursue his career.’

Although it was hard to bear, the families and loved ones I spoke to say they understand the ‘silence’ around VITT — after all, millions lost their lives to Covid and vaccines were the only hope. But what hurt most was being vilified online as conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers.

Kurt Weideling, 54, who lost his wife Nicola, 45, a senior manager at Oxford University, in April 2021, said: ‘We aren’t anti-vaxxers. That’s madness — we had the vaccination. That’s why we’re in this situation!’

Vikki Spit, 38, was even accused on social media of forging her partner Zion’s death certificate. She says: ‘I can’t go on Twitter any more. I’ve been hounded and abused.’

Charlotte co-founded the VITT Litigation Group to crowdfund action against AstraZeneca under the Consumer Protection Act. The group feel there are many questions still to be answered.

Such as why, even when the risk of blood clots became known in the spring of 2021, the UK carried on giving the AZ vaccine when at least 16 European countries stopped using it, at least for a few weeks — until the European Medicines Agency declared it safe.

It was several months before the UK halted its use in the summer of 2021.

Unfortunately for Zion, he had received the jab on May 5, 2021. Within a week, Vikki and the rest of his family were saying goodbye to him in hospital.

She says: ‘Zion was unconscious. He had a massive blood-stained bandage on his head and a black eye. He was my life. My everything.’ Zion was declared brain dead on Wednesday, May 19.

The couple met at a rock club in Croydon when Vikki was just 17. The couple were in a band together, had spent just one night apart in all that time and had been forced to postpone their wedding three times due to Covid restrictions.

In a cruel twist, the fact that they were not married meant she didn’t later qualify for the government bereavement allowance (a one-off payment of up to £3,500).

Meanwhile, Kurt Weideling says he can understand that, with a vaccine, there could be some collateral damage, possibly even deaths.

But what he can’t understand is that when people did die — including his wife of 25 years — neither AstraZeneca nor the ­Government were prepared to compensate their families properly.

‘You don’t get to make that decision and then wash your hands of the outcome — which is effectively what they have done,’ he says.

Vikki adds: ‘Everyone keeps talking about “a vanishingly small” number left injured or bereaved by this vaccine. But they won’t do anything to help us. So we’re left having to litigate against them.’

The legal action could take five years. No wonder then, that the former attorney g­eneral, Sir Jeremy Wright, last month urged Rishi Sunak to step in and settle the cases.

Gareth, meanwhile, can’t face the task of scattering his lovely wife Lisa’s ashes.

‘Because when it’s done, it’s all done; that’s it,’ he says. ‘And how do I explain to Zachary that it’s all that’s left of his mum.’

A spokesman for AstraZeneca told Good Health: ‘Our sympathy goes out to anyone who has lost loved ones or reported health problems.

‘The AstraZeneca-Oxford 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.’

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