Cyprus halted the use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford jab as part of its national inoculation programme until an investigation is concluded by the European Medicines Agency on Thursday into 40 cases of blood clots in people who had received the vaccine.
The Cyprus health ministry issued an announcement on Monday evening saying it was decided “to temporarily suspend the inoculations in Cyprus with the AstraZeneca vaccine until Thursday” in anticipation of the opinion of the EMA’s Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC).
The health ministry said that inoculations with the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines will continue as planned.
Elena Panayiotopoulou, deputy director of the ministry’s medical services said people “should not worry.”
She told ANT1 TV news that no blood coagulation directly linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine had been reported in Cyprus, adding that 17 mln people have already received the jab of which only 40 had thromboembolic events.
Earlier, the EMA said that “the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risks of side effects, and therefore it can continue to be administered while the investigation is ongoing.”
Germany suspends vaccinations
Germany was the latest of several European countries to suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Monday with its Health Minister Jens Spahn saying the decision followed a recommendation from the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) following newly registered cases of thrombosis.
Spahn said these were “very rare”.
The PEI said in a statement that more instances of coagulation disorders had been reported following vaccination with AstraZeneca’s shot since Thursday.
The EMA said several authorities responsible for national vaccine campaigns in EU countries have temporarily paused vaccination with the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca.
“This is a precaution taken in the light of their national situation while EMA investigates a number of events of blood clots in people who had received the vaccine, as previously reported.”
“Events involving blood clots, some with unusual features such as low numbers of platelets, have occurred in a very small number of people who received the vaccine. Many thousands of people develop blood clots annually in the EU for different reasons. The number of thromboembolic events overall in vaccinated people seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population,” the EMA said.
EMA said it is working closely with AstraZeneca/Oxford, with experts in blood disorders, and with other health authorities including the UK’s MHRA based on its experience with around 11 million administered doses of the vaccine.
The agency said investigation continued over the weekend, and rigorous analysis of all the data related to thromboembolic events will be carried out in the coming days.
EMA said its safety committee (PRAC) will further review the information on Tuesday and has called an extraordinary meeting on Thursday, March 18, to conclude on the information gathered and any further actions that may need to be taken.
Cyprus vaccinations reach 116,000 people
After a slow start, Cyprus’ inoculation programme picked up speed last week as vaccine deliveries in March increased, with authorities saying they had vaccinated 10% of the population.
The health authorities said on Friday that they were pushing ahead with the COVID-19 vaccination rollout that has so far reached 116,331 people, of whom 31,968 have already received a second jab.
Currently, the vaccination programme has worked its way down to people aged 67 and above as the health ministry announced that another 22,808 inoculation slots for this age group would go online from Tuesday, March 16, in addition to the 15,000 appointments were grabbed within just three hours of the first slots for the over 67s.
Cyprus is relying on the first three EU-approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford, with authorities having pre-ordered 4 million doses of vaccines, corresponding to 2 million people – twice its population.
Throughout this month, Cyprus should receive more than 164,000 vaccines, 64% more than the previous month.
The health service will receive 107,000 vaccines from AstraZeneca, up from 69,000, some 50,000 from Pfizer, from the planned 28,000 and 7,500 more from Moderna.
The aim is to vaccinate 200,000 people by the end of the month and a 60% of the entire population by June.
On Thursday, the EMA gave the single-dose Johnson & Johnson-developed coronavirus vaccine the green light as the EU seeks to speed up a stuttering inoculation campaign, with Cyprus ordering 200,000 doses.