“In Sicily, there is an 80% refusal rate of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Every 100 people, 80 say no,” Musumeci said late Saturday night, according to media reports.
He added that it is “natural” for people to be hesitant about the vaccine – recently rebranded as Vaxzevria – but they must believe scientists when they tell them that “it is more dangerous not to get vaccinated than to get vaccinated.”
In a Sunday statement, a spokesperson for the president attempted to clear up the comments, saying Musumeci meant to say “up to 80 percent” are refusing the vaccine, as some regions have a much lower refusal rate, such as Syracuse, where just 30% apparently feared the vaccine enough to say no.
Mucumeci’s announcement followed advice earlier this week from the European Medicines Agency that blood clots should be listed as a “very rare” side-effect of the Vaxzevria. It had examined 86 cases of vaccinated individuals developing blood clots, 18 of which ended fatally.
AstraZeneca responded to the recommendation by saying it was “actively collaborating with regulators” to “implement these changes to the product information.” It referred to the clotting cases as “extremely rare events.”
Though it’s unknown exactly why blood clots can develop post-immunization, researchers in Norway and Germany have said those who developed them had antibodies that reacted negatively to the vaccine, and they had been primarily prevalent in younger individuals.
Vaxzevria has been put on pause in multiple countries. Germany, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Portugal, and Spain have recommended only people aged over 60 receive the widely distributed shot, while France and Canada have recommended alternative vaccines for younger people.
Franco Locatelli, a health adviser to the Italian government on COVID-19, said on Sunday that Vaxzevria is “safe and effective,” but added, “If we find ourselves facing a disarming number of defections, we will reconsider the issue.”
Italy, one of the countries hit worst by the pandemic, has vaccinated nearly four million citizens thus far – approximately 6% of its population of 60 million.