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Coronavirus: Cyprus pressing ahead with vaccine programme as portal opens for new age group

file photo: vials labelled "astra zeneca covid 19 coronavirus vaccine" and a syringe are seen in front of a displayed astrazeneca logo in this illustration photo

The vaccination portal will open for people aged 55 and 56 on Tuesday and Wednesday, as Cyprus presses ahead with offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to all age groups in line with EMA guidance, health officials said on Monday.

People aged 61, 62 and 63 will have another chance to book a slot on Thursday, while the portal will open for people aged 53 and 54 on Friday and Saturday.

Cyprus’ vaccination roll-out has hit a speed bump following reports of a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and extremely rare incidents of blood clotting.

Those eligible have snapped up Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as soon as the portal opens but have turned their backs on AstraZeneca – of which Cyprus has more quantities – raising fears that the government’s vaccination target may be missed.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Margarita Kyriakou on Monday acknowledged there was “a hesitancy” regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Indicatively, only 5,000 of the 15,000 vaccination slots made available for people aged 57 and 58 on Friday and Saturday were taken up, with all 3,200 Pfizer vaccines snapped up, but only 1,800 of the more than 10,000 AstraZeneca jabs booked.

Both she and acting head of the pharmaceutical services Elena Panayiotopoulou told CyBC TV’s lunch time programme that all four vaccines in circulation in the EU were safe and effective and the choice the public should be making was to be vaccinated with the vaccine that is available.

Pressed about the concerns over health risks, Panayiotopoulou said that the risks of blood clots from the AZ vaccine were “infinitely small.”

The EMA has and continues to scrupulously monitor and investigate any reported side effect and the public should feel confident about the vaccines, Panayiotopoulou added.

A special leaflet approved by the EMA on symptoms relating to the extremely rare case of blood clotting has been translated into Greek and will be circulated among personal doctors on Tuesday, the same day as in other EU member states, to facilitate the quickest possible action to treat the symptoms should a case arise.

Asked whether Cyprus would follow other countries such as Germany which has restricted the AZ vaccine to people over 60, Panayiotopoulou said that the EMA’s guidance – approved unanimously by representatives of all members states – did not place any age restrictions.

“Cyprus follows the guidance of the EMA,” she said. “EMA would never allow use of a vaccine or pharmaceutical even if there was suspicion that there was a risk,” she added.

Asked what her advice was to the public, she responded: “To go get vaccinated without looking at the colour of the vaccine.”

New, bigger shipments of vaccines are expected in the next few weeks, as part of efforts to step up coverage of the population.

The target is to administer at least one jab to everyone aged over 55 by the beginning of May, and to cover all vulnerable groups.

The first shipment of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is due this week, boosting this drive.

Kyriakou said that Cyprus expects to take delivery of additional Pfizer vaccines in May and June after it exercised its right to buy more of the specific jab. She added that 6,000 Moderna vaccines will also be delivered this week.

The vaccination portal will open by specific age group only, pending the resolution of technical problems which sent the whole system crashing within minutes of opening for those aged 61 and over last Wednesday.

Deputy minister for innovation Kyriakos Kokkinos told CyBC on Monday morning that one change that is being tested is to allow only one person to enter the system for a specific individual each time. This is in order to bypass the problem when five or six people were logging in to book an appointment for the same person.

The portal will open for 55 and 56 year olds on Tuesday at 8am and remain open until Wednesday at 8pm, Kyriakou said.

Then people aged 61, 62 and 63 who did not book a slot last Wednesday will have an opportunity to do so on Thursday, while on Friday it will be the turn of those aged 53 and 54.

Those aged over 63 who have not yet booked a slot will then be given a chance to do so, in groups, she indicated.

Kyriakou also stressed the need for people to be vaccinated as a way out of the pandemic.

“It is important to trust the vaccination process. All four vaccines were unanimously authorised for circulation by the EMA. It is vaccinations that will lead us back to normality and not a specific vaccine.”

As regards the Sputnik vaccine, she confirmed that consultations were advanced for the purchase of 50,000 vaccines with an option for another 50,000 but said the timing of any delivery would be dependent on the vaccine receiving EMA approval.

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