COVID19: Cyprus continues AstraZeneca rollout as distrust grows

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Cypriots feeling unsure about AstraZeneca, the cornerstone of Cyprus’ COVID-19 vaccine rollout, puts the country’s target of reaching 60% coverage by the summer at risk.

Despite reassurances from the European Medicines Agency, who acknowledged links to very rare blood clotting incidents, arguing benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks, Cypriots are not convinced.

Cypriots mistrust towards AstraZeneca’s jab became apparent after a virtual stampede of citizens trying to grab an online vaccination appointment with anything other than AstraZeneca.

After crashing for nine hours, Cyprus’ vaccination portal reopened on Wednesday at 5 pm, going offline just minutes after opening for those over 61, as Cypriots made a beeline for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, discarding AstraZeneca.

In charge of the portal, the Innovation Ministry said the platform had crashed because it could not handle the volume of requests.

In comments to state broadcaster CyBC, Deputy Innovation Minister Kyriacos Kokkinos said: “By the time it crashed, all the slots for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been exhausted. Only AstraZeneca jabs, around 15,000, will be available when it reopens.”

On Wednesday, EMA’s safety committee (PRAC) concluded that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects of AstraZeneca.

So far, most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 years of age within two weeks of vaccination.

Based on the currently available evidence, specific risk factors have not been confirmed.

According to the EMA, the percentage of clots that have been recorded is 0.0011.5%, which makes it exceptionally negligible.

Cyprus’ Health Ministry said it would be pushing on with vaccination rollout as planned, aiming to reach 45% of the population by mid-May.

It also called on people aged 61 and above to book an appointment, “as they are at risk of developing serious symptoms if they are infected with the virus”.

Meanwhile, health authorities are dissatisfied with the practice followed by other EU countries in not using purely scientific criteria when managing the AstraZeneca vaccine.

During a teleconference with his EU counterparts, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou pointed out the policy inconsistency regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, causing confusion and upset among the public.

Some countries initially said they would not be administrating the vaccine to over 65-year-olds, then changed their decision.

“As a result of this inconsistency, citizens are reluctant to get vaccinated, putting the implementation of national vaccination programs at risk,” said Ioannou.

He argued that vaccinating a sufficient percentage of the population within the first half of the year will not be achieved if these delays continue.

Consequently, states will remain paralyzed due to lockdown measures that will have to continue to apply.

The UK government announced it would offer an alternative to AstraZeneca for people under the age of 30.

Cyprus has reported 49,366 COVID-19 cases and 266 deaths.