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Covid-19: Eight in ten Sicilians offered AstraZeneca jab now ‘refusing’ it

Up to 80 percent of people offered the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine In Sicily refuse it out of fears over its safety, according to the southern Italian region's president Nello Musumeci.

Covid-19: Eight in ten Sicilians offered AstraZeneca jab now 'refusing' it
A spokesman for Sicilian regional president Nello Musumeci later said he had meant to say 'up to 80 percent'. Photo: Carmelo Lenzo/AFP

Public confidence in the Anglo-Swedish jab has been badly shaken by reports linking it to rare, but potentially fatal, blood clots, and by conflicting recommendations on its use.

“In Sicily, there is an 80-percent refusal rate of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Every 100 people, 80 say no,” Musumeci said late Saturday in Catania,
according to multiple media reports.

EXPLAINED: Why has Italy recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine for over-60s only?

Musumeci added: “It is natural” for people to be particularly concerned, but we have a duty to believe scientists when they say it is more dangerous
not to get vaccinated than to get vaccinated.”

The president actually meant to say “up to 80 percent,” his spokeswoman Michela Giuffrida told AFP on Sunday, adding, as an example, that in the town of Syracuse the refusal rate was “30 percent.”

A large-scale boycott of the AstraZeneca jab would put Italy’s vaccination plan — already struggling with supply shortages and botched priorities – under further stress.

86 cases out of 25 million

Earlier this week, the European Medicine Agency (EMA) said blood clots should be listed as a “very rare” side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but added that benefits continued to outweigh risks.

The announcement came after EMA examined 86 blood clotting cases, 18 of which were fatal, out of around 25 million people in Europe who received the AstraZeneca vaccine. Most of the cases were in women aged under 60.

READ MORE: ‘Possible link’ between AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots, EMA concludes

In response to the findings, Italy – which initially recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine for those in the 18-55 age group – restricted its use to those aged 60 and above.

Similar action was taken in other European countries. On Friday, the EU medicines regulator also said it was probing a possible link between the AstraZeneca jab and a separate blood vessel disorder causing tissue swelling and a drop in blood pressure.

But the Italian government’s top scientific advisor on the coronavirus crisis, Franco Locatelli, insisted in a Sunday interview that fears over the Anglo-Swedish vaccine were “understandable, but unjustified.”

“I say that we are offering a vaccine that is safe and effective, which people must accept. That said, if we find ourselves facing a disarming number of defections, we will reconsider the issue,” he told La Stampa daily.

IN CHARTS: Who is Italy vaccinating fastest?

Italy is one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, with almost 114,000 dead, but its vaccination drive has been criticised for failing to focus on the most at-risk group — the elderly.

People in their 70s are among those most neglected, with only 2.7 percent fully vaccinated compared with 4.1 per cent for people in their 20s.

Overall, Italy has administered almost 13 million doses and fully vaccinated 3.9 million people — equal to around 6.5 per cent of a total population of some 60 million.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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