Sunday, 27 December 2020

COVID-19 Vaccine is Safe, Says Member of Gov't Scientific Advisory Council

ZAGREB, Dec 27, 2020 - A member of the government's Scientific Advisory Council, Andreja Ambriovic Ristov, has said that the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine in Croatia is the beginning of "the end of the abnormal situation we have been living in for ten months."

The first 9,750 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Croatia early on Saturday morning and the vaccination was set to start on Sunday.

Ambriovic Ristov, who heads the Department for Molecular Biology of Zagreb's Rudjer Boskovic Institute, said in an interview with Croatian Television on Saturday that the situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic would not get back to normal so soon and that the dynamic of the vaccination would determine how soon herd immunity would be achieved.

It is assumed that immunity requires vaccinating 70% of the population, but there is a possibility that more people will have to get vaccinated, she added.

She noted that people should not relax too soon and that they should comply with the epidemiological restrictions in force.

"The current restrictions cannot be relaxed. They are good, the government made the right decision because two weeks ago, when they were introduced, the number of new infections started to decline. Unfortunately, the decline in hospital admissions is small but the number of fatalities is unfortunately still not going down," she said.

Ambriovic Ristov noted that one would have to live with restrictions until a majority of the population was immunised and until it became evident that the virus was circulating less in the population.

She said that it was not likely that people would be able to stop wearing face masks by autumn, but that the end was in sight.

She said that the vaccine was safe and that vaccination would not change anything in the human genome.

"We will stay as we are, the vaccine is completely safe," she said, stressing that only those with a history of more serious allergic reactions should be on guard.

Researcher: Vaccine won't yield effects before March

Researcher and molecular biologist Ivan Djikic said on Saturday that the vaccine that arrived in Croatia earlier in the day would not yield effects before March and stressed that compliance with epidemiological restrictions in January and February was essential for protection.

Expressing confidence that more than 70% of the population would get vaccinated based on positive results, he said that one should continue to be cautious because the vaccine alone would not defeat the disease.

It will take four to five weeks for the vaccine to yield a positive effect. "January and February are the months when we will have to work together to protect ourselves," he said.

The situation in Croatia regarding the epidemic is unstable, data on new infections are not reliable, the rate of testing is insufficient, he said.

"Croatia is No. 1 in terms of the growth of mortality, No. 2 in terms of the number of deaths and No. 4 in terms of pressure on hospitals. The vaccine will not yield effects before March, only our joint work will," he said, predicting that the situation will become more normal in the second half of 2021 but that life will completely get back to normal only in 2022.

Sunday, 27 December 2020

PM Sure That Vast Majority of Croatians Will Be Vaccinated

ZAGREB, Dec 27, 2020 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Sunday that he was sure that a vast majority of Croatians would be inoculated against coronavirus in the next months, reiterating that first 9,750 doses of COVID-19 vaccine would be administered to citizens at the highest risk and front-line professionals.

"I and my Cabinet are very happy that the vaccine rollout has started in Croatia. We have made the vaccination plan which the government adopted. The plan was prepared by the Croatian Institute of Public Health, to roll out vaccines throughout all the counties," the premier said after the first person in Croatia, an 81-year-old Branka Anicic, a resident of a retirement home in Zagreb, was given a Pfizer jab on Sunday morning.

Plenkovic underscored that the first 9,750 doses would be given to citizens at the highest risk of contracting the disease and to frontline workers.

The Croatian PM expects the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to certify the COVID-19 vaccines produced by Moderna on 6 January.

Asked by the press why Croatia's state leaders were not among the first to receive the vaccine, Plenkovic explained that the first doses should be distributed to residents in old-age care homes who are high-risk groups of citizens and to front-line physicians who care for them.

There will be enough time for the demonstration of giving vaccines to (officials) that should encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated, said Plenkovic, who recently recovered from COVID-19.

He expressed his belief in the common sense of most citizens who will get vaccinated.

Sunday, 27 December 2020

PM: Arrival of Vaccine Gives Rise to Hope Life Will Return to Normal in 2021

ZAGREB, Dec 27, 2020 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said in a Twitter post on Saturday that the arrival of the first batch of the COVID-19 vaccine gave rise to the hope that life would return to normal during 2021.

"The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Croatia this morning. The main priority is protection of the most vulnerable and most exposed groups - the elderly and infirm and medical workers and employees of welfare institutions. The arrival of the vaccine is an encouraging message that gives rise to the hope that life will return to normal in 2021," Plenkovic said.

Croatian Public Health Institute (HZJZ) director Krunoslav Capak and vaccine distribution coordinators early this morning took over the first 9,750 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that had arrived in the country.

The vaccine must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius and its distribution across the country will start on Sunday.

The first batch of the vaccine is a symbolic one, delivered to all EU member-states to mark the start of European vaccinations on December 27, 28 and 29. After that, new batches will be arriving in Croatia on a weekly basis, in line with the vaccination schedule.

The HZJZ has called on citizens to respond to the vaccination campaign in line with its slogan - "Think of others - get vaccinated".

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Croatia to Start on Sunday, December 27, Announces PM

December 23, 2020 - The Croatian Government has announced that COVID-19 vaccinations in Croatia will begin on Sunday.

As reports, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said today at the press conference in the National and University Library that the vaccination will begin on Sunday, December 27, 2020.

"Safety is based on controlled clinical trials. Vaccinations will start on December 27, and it will take place over the next few months. We want as many of our fellow citizens to be vaccinated, and preferably everyone. That is why we have a clear debate that as many people as possible decide to get vaccinated. We aim for 70 percent of our fellow citizens to be vaccinated," Plenković said, reports Večernji list.

People in nursing homes will first get vaccinated

The vaccination will be free and voluntary. The first to be vaccinated will be those at risk because of their age or illness and their type of work.

"The priority groups are health professionals who are in contact with COVID-19 patients and users of social care homes. In the second phase, the elderly and those with chronic diseases will be vaccinated. The vaccine is coming on Saturday, it will be distributed to counties on Sunday, and mostly those in nursing homes will be vaccinated," said Krunoslav Capak, director of the Croatian Institute of Public Health.

Only the documentation content has changed, so now pregnant women and those who are planning to become pregnant can be vaccinated. There is no evidence that the vaccine acts on the fetus and pregnancy.

"We entered the negotiations on vaccine procurement with a timely response from the Government. We are a small market for large companies, and we often have problems with regular supply. We have secured maximum quantities of vaccines. When everyone gets the vaccine, we will get it too. That will happen on Saturday," Capak said.

Campaign 'Think of others, get vaccinated'

The Croatian Government has so far ordered 5,905,000 doses of the vaccine, of which one million from Pfizer, over two million from AstraZeneca, one million from Moderna, 900,000 from Johnson&Johnson, and 300,000 from CureVac.

Prime Minister Plenković said the vaccination plan's success depends on how many people will want to be vaccinated. He called on all media outlets to join the campaign under the slogan, "Think of others, get vaccinated."

"The Croatian Institute of Public Health has launched a campaign to promote vaccination. This is a key message. The arrival of the vaccine is an encouraging message, a message that gives hope for the normalization of life, social, and economic activities," Plenković explained. "This is an unprecedented crisis that has changed the world," he added.

Plenković said there is a loud but small group of people who oppose vaccination, but that there are many more people who want to be vaccinated than the vaccines that will come in the first tranche. Capak added that there would be enough vaccines for everyone.

"The arrival of the vaccine is a hope for the future. This is the moment when we come to the situation that by the end of March, we have about 270,000 doses of vaccine," Plenković said.

To read more about coronavirus in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Effective Vaccine Whose Benefits Outweigh Possible Risks Available

ZAGREB, Dec 21, 2020 - The director of Croatia's Agency for Medicinal Products and Medical Devices (HALMED) said on Monday the European Medicines Agency's approval of the first COVID-19 vaccine confirmed that all Croatian citizens could be sure to have access to an effective vaccine whose benefits outweighed possible risks.

Earlier today, EMA recommended granting a conditional marketing authorisation for the vaccine Comirnaty, developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, to prevent COVID-19 in people from 16 years of age.

EMA’s human medicines committee has completed its rigorous evaluation of Comirnaty, concluding by consensus that sufficiently robust data on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine are now available, HALMED said in a press release.

HALMED evaluators have participated in this procedure from the start as members of EMA's scientific commissions and working groups, Tomic said. "After the vaccine is put on the market, we will continue to intensively monitor the efficacy and safety of its application together with the Croatian Institute of Public Health and other regulators in the European Union."

EMA's scientific opinion will be submitted to the European Commission that will decide by tomorrow at the latest to grant marketing authorisation, which will be valid in all EU and European Economic Area member states, including Croatia.

The Comirnaty clinical trial involved around 44,000 people and showed a 95% reduction in the number of symptomatic COVID-19 cases in the people who received the vaccine, HALMED said.

The trial also showed around 95% efficacy in the participants at risk of severe COVID-19, including those with asthma, chronic lung disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or a body mass index ≥ 30 kg/m2. 

Comirnaty is given as two injections at least 21 days apart. The most common side effects were usually mild or moderate and got better within a few days after vaccination.

As Comirnaty is recommended for a conditional marketing authorisation, the company that markets it will continue to provide results from the main trial, which is ongoing for two years. This trial and additional studies will provide information on how long protection lasts, how well the vaccine prevents severe COVID-19, how well it protects immunocompromised people, children and pregnant women, and whether it prevents asymptomatic cases.

The company will also carry out studies to provide additional assurance on the pharmaceutical quality of the vaccine as the manufacturing continues to be scaled up. Comirnaty will be closely monitored and subject to several activities that apply specifically to COVID-19 vaccines.

Although large numbers of people have received COVID-19 vaccines in clinical trials, certain side effects may only emerge when millions of people are vaccinated, HALMED said. 

Monday, 21 December 2020

Capak: First Batch of Pfizer Vaccine to Consist of 9,750 Doses

ZAGREB, Dec 21, 2020 - The first batch of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered to Croatia on December 26, and the 9,750 doses will be distributed among the counties taking into account the size of their population, Croatian Public Health Institute (HZJZ) director Krunoslav Capak said on Monday.

"A total of 9,750 doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be sent to Croatia on December 26. We will try to vaccinate as many people as possible with this symbolic dose," Capak told a press conference of the national COVID-19 response team.

This symbolic first batch will not be enough to vaccinate the whole first priority group of people in Croatia. "The vaccine will primarily be administered to care home residents, some of the emergency medical workers and some of the health workers in COVID centres," Capak said.

Capak noted that Pfizer had pledged to deliver additional supplies on December 31 which would be used to vaccinate the whole first priority group. He said that discussions were under way on the vaccination of the second priority group, including people suffering from chronic diseases and those older than 65 years.

Capak pointed out that 27% fewer new coronavirus infections had been recorded in the week from December 15 to 21 than in the previous week.

Croatia has the third highest 14-day COVID-19 incidence rate and the ninth highest mortality rate in the European Union.

Friday, 18 December 2020

First Small Batch of COVID-19 Vaccine to be Delivered on Dec 26 to Croatia

ZAGREB, Dec 18, 2020 - Croatian Institute of Public Health (HZJZ) director Krunoslav Capak said on Friday that Pfizer would dispatch the COVID vaccine to EU member states on December 26 and that Croatia was among the countries that would receive this symbolic quantity.

He added, however, that it was still unknown when Croatia would get the rest of the million doses it ordered.

Capak said the delivery was being discussed with Pfizer at EU level and that the company promised that the tranche for the last quarter of 2020 would be dispatched by the end of January.

We assume will know the quantity by the end of next week, he added.

7 m2 per person in churches on Dec 24, 25

Mass services with more than 25 people will be allowed on December 24 and 25, provided that each person has seven square metres at their disposal, which will ensure a 2.6-metre-distance between them,

Speaking at a press conference of the national COVID-19 response team, he said that before and after those two days the ban on more than 25 people gathering indoors and outdoors would remain in force.

The HZJZ will appeal to the Church and the clergy to make sure that believers comply with the restrictions. Outside churches, a maximum 25 people will be allowed to gather and the recommendation is that all services on Christmas Eve end by 10 p.m.

Asked why bars and restaurants were not allowed to work under the 7 m2 criterion per customer, Capak said the answer was "impossible."

"We keep telling you that, with the measures, we are trying to ban contacts, but without banning the activities which are necessary for economic, psychological, social and other reasons. This measure is tied to respecting believers' wishes and needs for spiritual peace and the need to celebrate this holiday."

Small quantity of COVID-19 vaccine to be delivered on Dec 26Infections have dropped 20% in one week

In the week of December 14-18, Croatia recorded 20% fewer infections than the week before, "for the first time in weeks," but it will take more time for this mild downward trends to be reflected in "the number of hospitalisations, persons on ventilators and deaths," said Capak.

Compared with other EU countries, Croatia continues to have one of the highest incidence rates, ranking third on December 17, after Luxembourg and Lithuania.

Health minister on travel restrictions, bonus for working with COVID patients

Health Minister Vili Beros said travel within the country was being restricted ahead of the upcoming holidays because of asymptomatic patients.

He also responded to complaints from medical staff that this month they did not get the promised salary bonus for working with COVID patients, saying they would get it with the salary for December.

He said some hospitals had calculated the salaries for November before receiving the notification on how to calculate the bonus. "Not one health worker who works with COVID patients will be left without their bonus."

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Krunoslav Capak Reveals Latest COVID-19 Vaccination Plan in Croatia

December 16, 2020 - The latest on the COVID-19 vaccination plan in Croatia, as revealed by Krunoslav Capak of the Croatian Institute of Public Health.

Jutarnji List reports that although the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has announced that approval for the use of Pfizer and BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine could arrive by December 29, the German Bild reports that this could happen as early as December 23. On the other hand, the Germans say that in that case, vaccination in that country could start the day after Christmas, more precisely, on December 26. Given that the European Commission has announced in the vaccination plan that all EU countries, after the EMA has the last word, will receive the vaccine simultaneously, this would mean that Croatia could start with the first vaccinations on December 26 or 28.

Namely, BioNTech reported that the delivery of vaccines from the factory and the primary European distribution center of Pfizer's vaccine in Puurs, Belgium, can start as soon as the green light from the EMA and the EC arrives. The date by which the EMA could give the green light was indirectly confirmed at a press conference by German Health Minister Jens Spahn. He said the media reports, according to which the EMA should approve the vaccine on December 23, were correct, adding that this would happen through a regular rather than an urgent procedure, "because we want citizens to gain confidence in the vaccine," he said.

"We have information that the Pfizer vaccine will arrive in Croatia on January 4. However, the company said earlier that, as soon as the EMA approval arrives, symbolic quantities of the vaccine could be delivered to all EU countries at the same time this year. The rest should arrive after the New Year," says the director of the CNIPH, Krunoslav Capak. He is convinced that if the EMA approves the vaccine on the 23rd, Croatia will receive the first quantities simultaneously as Germany and other EU countries.

It should be reminded that Croatia has ordered a million doses of Pfizer vaccine, but it will, as in other countries, arrive in smaller tranches. The first quantity for Croatia should be 125,000 doses and is intended for the vaccination of users and employees of nursing homes and health professionals. After that, those over 65 and chronic patients will be vaccinated with two doses, for which it will be necessary to organize vaccination sites well. The National Civil Protection Headquarters also announced a campaign to give citizens all the information they need about the benefits of vaccination and possible side effects.

According to some information, the start of the campaign is planned for December 21, while the current epidemiological measures will be in force, and it seems that they will not be eased. It is also possible that the measures will be tightened if, by the end of this week, the numbers of patients and hospitalized due to coronavirus do not show a more serious downward trend. The Headquarters and the Ministry of Health believe that this is optimal because most people will be at home, spending time watching television, listening to the radio, or reading online portals.

But what is still not clearly answered is the details of the vaccination plan. For healthcare facilities, this should not be a major problem, as many healthcare professionals are concentrated in one place and can vaccinate each other. However, nursing homes are increasingly a "bottleneck," in which more than 70 percent of users have given their consent to vaccination. The facts say that homes do not have enough health professionals who could use all open vaccine bottles in the short term.

These days, the survey of nursing home users and employees has been completed, so it is known at least approximately how many doses are needed. So far, about 24,000 residents and employees have expressed this interest, which means that 48,000 doses should be provided for them within 21 days, which is the interval between two doses of the vaccine. If vaccination in Croatia starts on December 28, those vaccinated on that day will acquire full immunity on January 24 next year. By the end of the week, it should be known how much interest health professionals have in vaccination.

Initial figures suggest it could be about half of public sector employees, or about 30,000. This means that 60,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine should be provided for them. According to that calculation, after the vaccination of those from the first planned group of 125,000 received doses, there would be about 15,000 left from the first delivery of the vaccine, i.e., enough to vaccinate another 5,000 at-risk citizens.

However, there could be many more problems when the next shipment of Pfizer vaccines arrives, i.e., when the vaccination of the general population over the age of 65, who live in their apartments and houses, begins, because they will certainly need more doctors and nurses to implement them than usual in the flu vaccination season. There is still doubt as to whether vaccinations should be given exclusively to family physicians, as suggested by epidemiologist Dr. Bernard Kaić, or whether the number of "vaccinators" should be extended, for example, to pharmacists, about which there are also suggestions.

To read more about coronavirus in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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