NHS workers are being abused in Covid vaccination clinics by people who are refusing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine due to fears of side effects, it has emerged.

Health boards have appealed to the Scottish Government for help to address a rise in "unacceptable" incidents in which members of the public have angrily demanded Pfizer or Moderna jabs instead.

Guidelines state that under 40s should be given alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been linked to blood clots in extremely rare cases.

However, individuals do not get a choice over which vaccine they receive and those aged 40 or above are likely to be given an AstraZeneca dose, due to shortages of the others.

Staff have been left to face “challenging circumstances”, said Prof Alex McMahon, NHS Lothian’s Director of Nursing, who reported the issue in an update on the vaccination programme for Edinburgh and its surrounding areas.

He said “some citizens over the age of 40” had arrived to get vaccinated expecting to be offered a menu of options but that this could not happen because of supply issues.

NHS has warned abuse of staff administering vaccines will not be tolerated

Credit: Getty Images

Signs have been put up in centres warning people that abuse of staff would not be tolerated, in line with an NHS “violence and aggression” policy, in an effort to discourage the incidents.

However, Sandesh Gulhane, a GP and public health spokesman for the Scottish Tories, called for better communication with the public so that they knew they could not choose their vaccine ahead of appointments.

“The NHS staff and volunteers who are providing this life-saving work should be able to work safely and with our utmost thanks,” he added.

“Changes to the recommendations within the vaccine rollout has created some confusion among the public. However, there is simply no excuse for these NHS employees and volunteers being abused.

“SNP ministers must address this situation and redouble their efforts so that people are fully informed about the vaccine they will receive. That will help to avoid unacceptable situations.”

It was announced last month that under 40s would be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine, with the risk of potentially fatal blood clots slightly higher among younger groups, who are also less likely to become seriously ill if they catch Covid-19.

The move was in part designed to “boost confidence” in the vaccine programme.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon received her second AstraZeneca shot

Credit: PA

However, Prof McMahon also reported concerns that high numbers of missed appointments were impacting on the performance of its vaccine programme.

Recently, more than a quarter of appointments were missed in Lothian, mainly among those who were scheduled for a first dose.

Around 12,000 appointment letters have been returned to the health board unopened as they had been sent to an incorrect address.

In Scotland there have been four deaths attributed to “adverse effects of Covid-19 vaccines” although it is not known which vaccine people were given.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We understand that some people may have questions about the vaccine they are offered, and may have a preference for one vaccine over another, but all vaccines have been approved by the MHRA as safe and effective.

“As is the case throughout the NHS, any aggressive behaviour towards staff is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“We know that the best protection against the harm of Covid-19 is vaccination and we would therefore encourage everyone who is offered a vaccine to get vaccinated.”