COVID19: Cyprus limits AstraZeneca to over 50s

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Following the death of a 39-year-old British woman after a blood clotting incident, and a number of serious thrombotic episodes amongst people who received AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, Cyprus authorities are now recommending the jab only to those over 50.

The Health Ministry announced that it is recommending to those under 50 to opt for an alternative, pointing to the mRNA vaccines available, Moderna and Pfizer.

The decision was taken after experts agreed that the vaccine had lost public trust, in combination with the company not keeping to schedules, but did not agree on measures needed to be taken.

Views by the government’s advisors were mixed.

A number of experts insisted that an age limit of 40 years and above should be introduced, others said 50 and others were backing the complete withdrawal of the vaccine from the rollout.

The team of experts, however, unanimously agreed that people vaccinated with the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should proceed normally with the second dose as well. This, they said, provided that no symptoms or serious side effects were experienced after the first dose, such as thrombosis syndrome or thrombocytopenia.

“These individuals are encouraged to come forward for the second dose of the vaccine, which is especially important for their protection against the virus and its mutations,” the ministry said.

The ministry added that it opted to go with the majority of the experts who were backing an age limit of 50 years after taking in consideration “the improved epidemiological picture, the availability of (other) vaccines and the benefit from a smooth continuation of the vaccination programme.”

Until recently, despite the fact that other countries have introduced an age limit for AstraZeneca, the Cyprus Health Ministry kept the vaccine in its artillery against Covid-19. The Ministry had argued that they had been following EMA guidelines, which do not call for an age limit on any vaccine.

Scientists offered their take after concerns over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine had hit the roof, following the death of a 39-year-old British woman. The woman’s death is still being investigated by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for its possible connection to the vaccine.

Another woman, 40, is currently being treated in the Nicosia General following a thrombotic episode, but is said to be well.

In comments to the press on Wednesday, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said that the risk assessment only concerned the AstraZeneca jab despite the fact the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine works in the same way.

In its announcement, the ministry said that they would be monitoring developments and data emerging in Cyprus and internationally, waiting for further recommendations from the EMA, “prioritising the safeguarding of public health and people’s safety”.


Rescheduling 2nd appointments

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has started rescheduling appointments for people who received the first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in March, following a decision to shorten the wait from 12 to eight weeks.

Initially, the two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were administered with a 12-week gap, but a rise in infections gave way to experts to decide to reduce the gap to eight weeks.

The decision was taken in April but the first text messages with new dates only went out last Thursday, with the ministry saying that some 12,600 second jab appointments have already been rescheduled. Another 25,000 covering up to June 23 are being rescheduled in the next few days.

Health Minister Ioannou confirmed that the ministry is expecting a new shipment of 350,000 vaccines in June from all manufacturers, which will include enough AstraZeneca vaccines to cover second dose appointments.

The Minister also reassured the public that “the quantity we are expecting will help us towards the goal of vaccinating 65% of the population using all other available vaccines.”