Greeks in limbo over AstraZeneca jab

The AstraZeneca landscape across Europe is fragmented as different recommendations have been made. [Shutterstock/Dimitris Barletis]

More than 1 million Greek citizens who received one or both doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been left in limbo after the National Vaccination Committee suddenly recommended that the vaccine should be avoided by people under 60 years old. The AstraZeneca landscape across Europe is fragmented as different recommendations have been made.

Almost 26% of the Greek population has been fully vaccinated and considering that it bets heavily on the summer season to revive the economy, the government wants to avoid the vaccination programme being derailed.

“Because the pandemic has been greatly reduced in Greece, the risk of a young person getting sick is very small, so there is no reason to take even a small risk of complication”, said pulmonologist Theodoros Vasilakopoulos.

A total of 1,300 citizens under the age of 60 are scheduled for the second jab of AstraZeneca.

Those scheduled for a first-dose appointment with AstraZeneca under the age of 60 will receive a text message on 21 June informing them of the committee’s recommendation that they change their vaccine, if they wish.

For those who have already taken the first AstraZeneca jab – regardless of age – and have an appointment for the second shot, the committee recommended that they complete their vaccination with the same vaccine, as long as they did not have serious side effects after the first shot.

“Millions of Europeans have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca, hundreds of thousands of Greeks who have been protected from COVID-19. More than 20 European countries, like us, are now recommending that the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine be given normally, as it has infinitesimal side effects,” said Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias.

A fragmented landscape

Across the EU, countries have adopted various approaches. In Spain, AstraZeneca is limited to the 60-69 age group and in Slovenia for the 18-64 age group.

In Finland and Sweden, the jab is recommended for those aged over 65 while in Italy and the Netherlands it is for over-60s only.

In France and Croatia, the jab is recommended for people over 55, while in Belgium for over 41. In Denmark and Norway, the jab is completely removed from the vaccination list.

In Germany, Astrazeneca could in theory still be given to everyone. However, the vaccination committee (STIKO) recommends using it only for people older than 60.

In practice, this means that younger people can only get vaccinated with AstraZeneca if they explicitly ask for it and after thorough consultation with their doctor. Yet, for younger people having received a first Astrazeneca dose, STIKO now recommends administering an mRNA vaccine for the second shot.

In Slovakia, people who are waiting for the second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine are currently the only ones who can be vaccinated with it. Before, it had been administrated to all adults above 18 years old. Otherwise, vaccination with AstraZeneca was suspended in May amid a shortage of doses.

In Czechia, vaccination with AstraZeneca is not banned but the Health Ministry has issued a recommendation that AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson jab should be given only to people over 60. The recommendation does not apply to younger people who have already received the first dose of AstraZeneca or J&J.

Bulgaria has decided that AstraZeneca vaccine should not be used for women under 60 years old with an increased risk of thrombosis and or a history of thrombocytopenia.

All people who received the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine and did not experience any serious side effects can take a second shot of the same vaccine.

Those who have received AstraZeneca as a first dose but do not want it as a second are vaccinated with Pfizer as a second dose 84 days after the first dose. At the moment anyone can be vaccinated with whatever vaccine they want.

(Sarantis Michalopoulos with EURACTIV Network)

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