By Evie Andreou and Antigoni Pitta
The health ministry announced on Wednesday it has adopted the suggestion of the epidemiology experts and will not recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for those under 50 years old.
Those 50 and under are advised to opt for vaccines using mRNA technology: Pfizer or Moderna.
The team of experts also unanimously said that people vaccinated with the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should proceed normally with the second dose, provided that they have not experienced any symptoms of serious side effects after the first dose such as thrombosis syndrome or thrombocytopenia.
“Therefore, these individuals are encouraged to come in regularly for the second dose of the vaccine, which is especially important for their protection against the virus and its mutations,” the ministry said.
It added that it decided to adopt the position of the majority of the experts and not recommend the AstraZeneca for people 50 and under after taking into consideration “the improved epidemiological picture, the availability of (other) vaccines and the benefit from a smooth continuation of the vaccination programme.”
The health ministry asked the advisory committee on coronavirus to re-evaluate the vaccinations programme after concerns were raised following the death over the weekend of an AstraZeneca-vaccinated 39-year-old woman who had a thrombotic episode. The woman’s death is still under investigation by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for its possible connection to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The committee explored a number of possible solutions, with some in favour of placing age restrictions for the AstraZeneca vaccine, and even completely suspending its use, and others supporting EMA’s guidelines that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.
Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said earlier in the day the risk assessment only concerned the AstraZeneca jab despite the fact the Janssen vaccine works in the same way.
Other EU countries had introduced age restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine but Cyprus until now had not, with the health ministry arguing it was following the EMA’s guidelines.
The health ministry said on Wednesday that, at its request, the scientific advisory committee evaluated the vaccination programme, the availability of vaccines and the expected deliveries, the vaccination coverage rate of the population as well as the issue to date of serious side effects from vaccinations and reported severe thrombotic events.
After announcing its latest decision, the health ministry gave reassurances that it was closely monitoring developments and data emerging in Cyprus and internationally, as well as any new recommendations from the EMA.
“It stands ready to regularly assess the course of the epidemiological picture of the country and, by extension, of the vaccination plan, and take all actions with the primary priority of safeguarding public health and the people’s safety,” the ministry said.
Meanwhile, with the period between AstraZeneca jabs reduced from 12 to eight weeks, the ministry has started rescheduling appointments for the second dose, with 12,500 shots already brought forward and another 25,000 due to be arranged in the next few days.
Ioannou added that the health ministry is expecting to receive a new shipment of 350,000 vaccine doses in June, coming from all makers, which will include enough AstraZeneca vaccines to cover second dose appointments.
Asked if this will play a part in the national vaccine rollout, the minister said that there should be no issues, since “the quantity we are expecting will help us towards the goal of vaccinating 65 per cent of the population using all other available vaccines.”