COVID19: Moderna vaccine arrives, AstraZeneca by mid-February

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The first batch of 1,200 doses of vaccines from US pharmaceutical Moderna has arrived in Cyprus to boost the inoculation programme against COVID-19.

Cyprus is scheduled to receive some 1,200 jabs a week for a total of 16,500 Moderna vaccines before the end of March, to supplement those already supplied by Pfizer/BioNTech.

A Health Ministry spokesperson told CyBC Radio on Wednesday that the third vaccine from AstraZeneca should arrive by mid-February, once approved by the European Medicine Agency.

Cyprus has placed the biggest order of vaccines with AstraZeneca, amounting to 1,192,043, with a further 156,668 from Moderna.

The health authorities plan to inoculate 40% of the general population by the end of June.

The authorities have ordered a total of 3 mln doses which correspond to 1.5 mln people.

Cyprus included the Turkish Cypriot community in its vaccine orders.

The EMA on Tuesday received a request for approval from AstraZeneca for the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with Oxford University.

The EMA said it would assess the application under an accelerated timeline, with the agency saying it could deliver its opinion to the Commission by January 29.

Taking to Twitter European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen hailed the application by Oxford-AstraZeneca as “good news”.

“Once the vaccine receives a positive scientific opinion, we will work full speed to authorise its use in Europe,” she tweeted.

AstraZeneca has previously been criticised over a lack of clarity and transparency on trials that had shown varying outcomes in the efficiency of the jab, for which the EU has placed an order for 400 mln doses.

Initial large-scale trials in which volunteers in the UK and Brazil were given two full doses showed 62% effectiveness, while trials were halted due to a participant of the clinical studies developing encephalomyelitis.

In earlier comments to the Financial Mirror, Dr Christos Petrou, Associate Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Nicosia said that a number of setbacks had delivered blows to an otherwise scientifically very credible vaccine.

He said these setbacks had put Astra Zeneca behind other pharmaceuticals in the race, such as Pfizer and Moderna.

“However, due to the substantial number of doses expected from Astra Zeneca, it is this vaccine that will eventually pull us out of the pandemic,” said Petrou.

Slow rollout

The initial batch of 9,750 vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech arrived in Cyprus on Boxing Day, with some inoculations beginning the next day and President Nicos Anastasiades receiving his first jab on December 28.

Cyprus receives 6,825 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech a week and expects 391,637 until the third quarter of 2021.

The elderly who are frail and front-line health workers are expected to be inoculated by the end of January, with most of the over-80s by the end of the first quarter, followed by the over-75s.

By the second quarter, all high-risk people over 16 should have been inoculated.

According to the Health Ministry, since the start of the vaccination programme on December 27 until January 10, a total of 6,035 people has been vaccinated with the first of two doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Authorities have been criticised for a slow rollout of the vaccination programme, with the health services pointing towards a slower than planned approval of vaccines by the European Union medical authorities.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine must be stored in a freezer between -25C and -15C. They are being kept in the pair of storage freezers that arrived on December 19.

These were bought from Japan’s PHCbi, formerly Panasonic Healthcare and have a list price of €14,700 each plus shipping.

The Health Ministry said that each freezer can store up to 130,000 doses at temperatures of -75C and were purchased as part of an agreement between the European Commission and the manufacturer.

Pfizer-BioNTech jabs are already being dispensed, one of the two freezers has been adjusted to accommodate the Moderna vaccines.