• Up to 80% of Sicilians are rejecting the AstraZeneca jab, the leader of the region has said. 
  • Italy is using the shot, but has advised that it be avoided in younger age groups.
  • Fears, based on rare blood clots, are “understandable, but unjustified,” a top health official said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Up to 80% of people in Sicily are turning down the AstraZeneca vaccine when it is offered, the island’s leader said on Saturday. 

Nello Musumeci, Sicily’s president said in a press conference on Saturday that “out of 100 people, 80 say no” to the AstraZeneca vaccine, AFP reported.

A spokesperson for Musumeci later told AFP that the figure was too extreme and that he had meant to say “up to 80%.”

In some cities, like Syracuse, the refusal rate was lower, around 30%, the spokesperson said.

Musumeci said that he understood why people would be concerned about the vaccine, but that Sicilians “have a duty to believe scientists” when they say the vaccine is safe, Giornale di Sicilia reported.

“The only solution is to immunize the Sicilian community,” he said.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) last week listed unusual blood clots with low platelets as a very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The agency said that the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.

The Italian government has said that the AstraZeneca vaccine should be avoided by those under the age of 60, but that “anyone who wants to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca can continue to be.”

The fear about the vaccine are “understandable, but unjustified,” said government advisor Franco Locatelli on Sunday, AFP reported.

“I say that we are offering a vaccine that is safe and effective, which people must accept,” he said to the La Stampa newspaper.

“That said, if we find ourselves facing a disarming number of defections, we will reconsider the issue.”

Italy has been struggling to get its COVID-19 outbreak under control and its vaccination campaign has been criticized for being sluggish The Washington Post reported.

Unlikely other European countries, which have seen a downtick in the number of deaths, Italy’s death rate has remained high.

The country now has the seventh-highest death toll of COVID-19, with over 113,000 COVID-19 deaths as of April 11. 22% of its population is over the age of 65, which gives it the second-oldest population of any country.

Germany, France, the UK, and other countries have restricted the use of the vaccine in younger people over concerns about unusual blood clots. 

Experts have told Insider that having the shot is still safe and is less risky than flying in a plane. One expert told Insider that the real risk was that vaccine skepticism would rise among those who are offered the vaccine. 

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