The Cyprus vaccination programme is back on track after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave its go-ahead to the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca on Friday for people over the age of 18.
This is the third vaccine to be cleared for use in the European Union, following Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, initial doses of which have already been shipped to Cyprus.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is the cornerstone of the Cyprus government’s vaccination rollout plans with 1.2 mln doses and the first batch was expected to arrive in Cyprus by mid-February. It is easily transportable and can be stored at fridge temperature.
“The EMA recommendation for approval in the EU of the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca is a very positive development,” said Cyprus health minister Constantinos Ioannou.
He said this “will help us implement our vaccination programme within the timeframes we had set.”
Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, welcomed the EMA’s positive opinion on conditional marketing authorisation for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“We stand ready to work together and find solutions to give citizens access to more vaccinations as swiftly as possible,” she said.
“With this third positive opinion, we have further expanded the arsenal of vaccines available to EU and EEA member states to combat the pandemic and protect their citizens,” said Emer Cooke, Executive Director of EMA.
“As in previous cases, the human medicines committee (CHMP) has rigorously evaluated this vaccine and the scientific basis of our work underpins our firm commitment to safeguard the health of EU citizens.”
Combined results from four clinical trials in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine was safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 in people from 18 years of age.
These studies involved around 24,000 people, the EMA said.
This vaccine is to be given as two standard doses, and the second dose should be given 4 to 12 weeks after the first, the EMA said, adding that it demonstrated around a 60% efficacy in the clinical trials.
It said that the most common side effects were usually mild or moderate and got better within a few days after vaccination. These included pain and tenderness at the injection site, headache, tiredness, muscle pain, general feeling of being unwell, chills, fever, joint pain and nausea.
Vaccination plan at risk
Earlier in the week, AstraZeneca conceded it would not be able to meet its Q1 delivery commitments to the European Union, endangering the bloc’s strategy to get the virus in check by summer.
Brussels also faced mounting criticism for its decision to put most of its eggs in one basket.
The EU’s plans to inoculate 70% of the general population by the end of June, came under threat after AstraZeneca announced it would only be able to meet 40% its EU commitment for vaccine deliveries in Q1 (January to March).
This means that, essentially, for some time to come, Europe will be trying to fence-off the outbreak with just two approved vaccines in its arsenal, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines with supplies of these two insufficient.
Other vaccines are expected to be approved towards the end of the year.
To date, the Union has recorded more than 426,000 COVID-19 related deaths, according to the ECDC, which means the EU is running out of time.
Astra Zeneca’s announcement enraged EU officials with Commissioner Kyriakides informing member states of the situation on Monday, noting that she had sent a letter to the manufacturers seeking answers.
“The European Union has pre-financed the development of the vaccine and the production and wants to see the return.
“The European Union wants to know exactly which doses have been produced by AstraZeneca and where exactly so far and if or to whom they have been delivered,” Kyriakides told AstraZeneca.
In a statement on Monday, the Commissioner said: “The answers of the company have not been satisfactory so far”.
Refuting the EU’s accusations, AstraZeneca on Tuesday said that the company did not have enough time to iron out glitches in setting up production lines with external partners.
Two months behind
“We are basically two months behind where we wanted to be,” Pascal Soriot told German daily Die Welt in an interview, when asked about delayed deliveries in Europe.
Soriot argued that the UK had received a large batch of vaccines, as they had signed the agreement some three months earlier, while the factory with the highest production rate is in the UK.
“That factory could be used to produce doses for the EU, but not until the 100 million doses contract with the UK is completed”.
Later, the company committed to tend to hiccups, under EU pressure, and to speed up processes.
Currently, the union’s 27 member states have been able to administrate some 8.9 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Bloomberg calculation, that is two doses for every 100 citizens, or 1 in 100 has been vaccinated.
The United States and the UK have a rate of seven and 10.5 doses for every 100 citizens while Israel has a rate of 43.
In Cyprus, up to 22 January, the health ministry calculates that 15,322 have received their first jab and more than 2,000 have received the second.
Based on current vaccine availability, Cyprus plans to carry out 5,000 vaccinations a week.
Based on the vaccination plan for COVID-19, the total amount of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines available is 391,637 (divided into 2 doses per person) until the third quarter of 2021.
Cyprus has placed its biggest order of vaccines with AstraZeneca, amounting to 1,192,043, with an additional 156,668 from Moderna.
Nicosia increased its Pfizer order to 957,000 with an additional 565,000 doses expected to arrive between April and September.
The authorities have ordered around 3.5 mln doses from eight pharmaceuticals, through the EU, which correspond to inoculating its entire population three times over.