Cyprus Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou has said that the vaccine against Covid-19 is the beginning of the end but that it does not signal the end of the effort to combat the disease, adding that the first vaccines are expected in Cyprus at the beginning of January.
“We will continue to live our lives implementing the simple measures of personal protection which offer us greater protection but with more relaxed restrictions in the various aspects of our day-to-day life,” Ioannou said on Tuesday addressing a press conference during which the government’s vaccination plan was outlined.
“Protective masks, personal hygiene and social distancing will continue to be part of our routine,” he added.
Certainly, the Health Minister said the vaccine “will allow us to gradually go ahead in relaxing many restrictions we were obliged to put in place so far due the lack of alternatives.”
However, he pointed out, “caution is still necessary before we can say with certainty that the situation is back to normal.”
Ioannou further noted that “the development and production of a vaccine against Covid-19 constitute a milestone in humanity’s tremendous effort to overcome this unprecedented health crisis, to put an end to the turmoil caused by it on a global scale and to help us continue our life, return to our work, our friends and our loved ones.”
“I wish to convey once more my gratitude for the high sense of responsibility shown by the overwhelming majority of our society,” he said, adding that I will not tire of repeating that I understand the objections and I hear the concerns of professionals and entrepreneurs who are affected by the restrictive measures. I recognise that people are fatigued and it was expected after so many months of extended uncertainty and changes.
Putting into effect measures in a timely manner and increasing them has allowed us not to impose a second total lockdown in order to contain the virus, Ioannou noted.
He pointed out that we are at a better point and we managed to avoid harsh measures which are implemented from the beginning of November in other European countries and are being extended until the beginning of the new year.
He urged people to once more “show respect and help health professionals with patience to be able to continue to offer us the necessary care.”
Impact on health sector great if 2021 budget is not voted by Parliament
Asked how much the health sector and particularly the purchase of vaccines would be affected if the budget for 2021 is not voted by Parliament, the Health Minister said that the “impact on the health sector will be great.”
Securing vaccines will certainly be affected, but the vaccines will likely be a small problem arising from a possible rejection of the budget right now, he said, adding that there are issues that have to do with the National Health Scheme (GeSY).
If things run smoothly one person can be vaccinated every six minutes
During the press conference, Head of Medical Services Olga Kalakouta presented the National Vaccination Plan for Covid-19.
Kalakouta said that the fact that vaccines have been ordered by the EU enables Cyprus to know that it will be able to cover its population with the necessary number of vaccines “and this makes us feel particularly safe.” She added that due to the central procedure in place the Ministry will know in advance how many doses it will receive and when and will be able to plan accordingly.
Referring to keeping the vaccines under the conditions they need to be she said that all necessary steps have been taken. For the time being, she added, there has been no change on the date two huge refrigerators are expected to be delivered which are necessary for the vaccines to be kept in.
Kalakouta presented the dates of delivery of the first quantities of vaccine in Cyprus, pointing out that “the first delivery of Pfizer-Biontech is expected in January, while a review will be made for Moderna in mid-January and we will need to wait for a little while.” As far as AstraZeneca is concerned the company has still not applied to be licensed so a preliminary date of delivery will have to be changed for later.
Once vaccines arrive then the vaccination procedure and reserves will be monitored using a software programme.
Once the vaccines are fully rolled out, 38 vaccination centres will be able to operate, one in every health care centre. She also said that the Ministry is also looking at the possibility of using large event establishments for vaccinations.
“We are lucky because we have the know-how, the infrastructure and properly trained staff,” she noted.
According to the plan in place, people who are in hospitals and belong to priority groups will be visited by vaccinating teams.
Additionally, there are mobile units which will be used mainly for structures such as homes for the elderly, which will be the first to receive the vaccine.
Kalakouta said that up to 100 different vaccinating crews can operate at once. If everything runs smoothly, she noted, a person can be vaccinated every six minutes, adding that vaccinations will start at 0800 in the morning and will continue until 1800 or 1900 hours depending on demand.
Vaccinations will take place by online appointment and once the appointment is made then the person to be vaccinated will receive an sms, she said, adding that a reminder can also be sent for both the first and the second dose of the vaccine.
Kalakouta further said that approximately 5,000 people working or residing in homes for the elderly will be the first priority for vaccinations. She also said that there are about 33,000 people over the age of 80 and another 33,000 over the age of 70, so that planning can be made from now.
“Vaccination of the population at large is expected to start in the summer, given what we know so far on the flow of quantities arriving in Cyprus,” she pointed out.
Replying to a question on whether the vaccine will have to be repeated every year, Associate Professor of the Pharmaceuticals Course at University of Nicosia, Christos Petrou explained that this is not yet known. The first volunteers were vaccinated in the beginning of the summer, so we will know in a year’s time, he noted, adding that the first outcome that we know now is that the vaccines protect from this serious disease, so our aim is to reduce hospitalisations and deaths.
In the meantime, replying to a question about a teleconference he had with shopping mall representatives, the Minister of Health said that he will be passing on their suggestions to the scientific advisory team on Covid-19, reiterating at any rate that data on the epidemiological situation are continuously reviewed.
Asked about requests to lift a ban of church services without attendees, Ioannou said that the need of people to go to church during Christmas is understandable, adding however that “our priority is public health.”
Everyone needs to understand that we are a crucial point. Everything is being reviewed. I wish to convey the need to uphold measures, the seriousness of the situation and not how and where we will change measures, he pointed out.
“We all need to have a personal and collective responsibility. We see that part of the population does not abide by the measures. We are at breaking point,” he stressed.