By Radu-Sorin Marinas
BUCHAREST, July 1 (Reuters) - Romania has asked AstraZeneca to extend the shelf life of some 43,000 COVID-19 vaccines that expired on June 30, as the country has been unable to administer them in time due to the low take-up by the public.
Vaccine hesitancy is spreading in European Union member Romania as a result of entrenched distrust of state institutions, misinformation campaigns and lack of public awareness.
Authorities have opened appointment-free vaccination centres in markets, airports and concert halls, and is sending doctors door-to-door in villages, where scepticism is rife.
Some 77% of Romanians that have been vaccinated have received the Pfizer-BioNTech, followed by AstraZeneca with 9%, Moderna with 7.7%, and Johnson & Johnson's with 6.3%.
Left holding so many unused AstraZeneca shots, the government has asked the company to advise whether they can still be used after expiry.
"If the manufacturer provides us with data certifying long-term stability or longer than six months in the coming period ... it is very possible that we will have this extension of the validity period," said Valeriu Gheorghita, head of the government's vaccination committee.
Canada's health regulator said on May 29 it has extended the expiry dates of two lots of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine by 30 days to ensure that provinces and territories are able to use up their existing inventory.
The approval to extend the shelf life of the vaccines to July 1 from May 31 was supported by scientific evidence, Health Canada said in a statement.
Bucharest, which missed its goal to vaccinate 5 million Romanians by the end of May, agreed to sell 1.17 million doses of excess Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to Denmark, the Danish health ministry said on Tuesday.
Government data showed infection rates slowed dramatically over the past weeks, with 52 new coronavirus cases reported on Wednesday, raising the total number to 1,080,792.
More than one million people recovered so far and 33,786 have died. (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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