Amid a scramble for a much-coveted Covid-19 vaccine among the island’s elderly population, the health ministry on Tuesday announced changes to its vaccination portal to prioritise those over 90.

The decision follows mounting protests over the vaccination rollout that, in its first current phase, is limited to residents and staff at care homes, front line health professionals and those aged over 80.

The latter group – an estimated population of 33,000 have had to book an appointment on the vaccination portal.

But with vaccines in very short supply, only a few thousand slots have opened up weekly. These have disappeared within minutes, to the frustration of vaccine candidates and their relatives, some of whom questioned whether the system was being manipulated.

This was flatly denied by the ministry which said the system operated on a first come first serve basis, but only for those who were over 80 years old and therefore eligible for a jab.

The ministry first changed the timing of when appointments can be booked from midnight to 9.00 am so as to make it fairer, only to face a fresh storm of protests on Monday when Nicosia residents said they were unable to find a slot at 9.01 am.

Plan B is now to further subcategorise those over the age of 80.

Essentially, the ministry will no longer accept all applications from those aged 80 and above but will instead restrict applications to the 90 and above group, then the 88-89, 86-87 and so on.

“Specifically, in the first stage, the vaccination portal will be available for an appointment for those aged 90 and above… until those within the age groups 80 and above have been covered,” it said.

It was also noted however that when each age bracket (for example, the 86-87 group) is permitted to apply, any person older than that group may also apply.

Up to now, some 12,000 people have been vaccinated in Cyprus. One group – including President Nicos Anastasiades and Archbishop Chrysostomos, have already received the second of the two required jabs.

The health ministry said that on Monday 1,859 vaccines were administered throughout the Republic, of which 499 were second-dose vaccines. On Sunday, 333 people in care homes received their second dose.

Vaccinations continued on Tuesday with Emilia Hadjiyianni, head of Famagusta General Hospital, saying that about 80 people who have booked through the portal were being vaccinated there daily. The vaccination centre at old Larnaca Hospital was processing about 100 people a day.

But according to the Cyprus News Agency, there were complaints in Limassol with people saying they had had to wait for up to 90 minutes in a corridor where it was impossible to social distance, particularly as many of the elderly people had relatives or others with them to help. Officials told the news agency that delays were sometimes inevitable as people who were vaccinated needed to remain on site for 15 minutes (30 in cases of those who stated they have an allergy)

The hospital on Tuesday was due to vaccinate about 165 people.

The announcement of pharmaceutical company Pfizer earlier this month saying it would temporarily reduce deliveries to Europe while it upgrades its production capacity has spooked many governments in the EU.

But issues locally have also seemingly made the vaccination process more challenging.

One complaint that arose concerned the geographical distribution of vaccination centres, which for example forced some people living in Polis to travel all the way to Kyperounda.

Another issue was the opening of the vaccination appointment portal at midnight, which led many people unable to stay up until that time and missed their opportunity. As a result, most of the available appointments were taken up by the early morning hours.

This has since been addressed.

There also appear to be some discrepancies between the number of vaccines received by various EU member states.

As Reuters reported last week, the German health ministry says on its website that the country – with a population of 83 million – will receive nearly 4 million Pfizer doses by the end of January.

Romania, with a population four times smaller, says it expects to receive only 600,000 doses in the same period. Bulgaria, with less than one-tenth of Germany’s population, expects to receive only about 60,000 Pfizer shots in January, in proportion much less than Germany.

Meanwhile, arrangements have been made to start vaccinating the enclaved population and those who repatriated in the Karpas peninsula and the Maronite villages, in the north, the Presidential Commissioner said on Tuesday. Arrangements have been made already, in cooperation with the Presidency of the Republic and the ministry of health, it added.

The United Nations have been asked to proceed with all arrangements with the occupation regime, for the smooth implementation of these plans, the announcement concluded.