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CORRECTED-Hundreds queue up as Latvia offers walk-in AstraZeneca shots

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Janis Laizans and Andrius Sytas
·2-min read
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(Corrects spelling of Riga resident Kovalevs' name in 4th paragraph)

By Janis Laizans and Andrius Sytas

RIGA, April 16 (Reuters) - People in their 30s showed up in their hundreds on Friday morning as Latvia offered the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone who wanted it in order to clear a growing backlog of the shot often refused by the old.

Latvia is now vaccinating people over 65 and those with chronic illnesses, but many do not show up when told they will be given AstraZeneca.

Denmark this week became the first country to stop using AstraZeneca altogether, as European officials investigate reports of rare blood clots. Many countries have resumed using the shot, with some restricting it to certain age groups, mostly those aged above 50 or above 60.

“We queued two and half hours before opening, around 6:30 in the morning, because this is the only way out of this for us,” Riga resident Vladlens Kovalevs told Reuters at a converted convention centre in the city.

Partly due to hesitancy over AstraZeneca, Latvia has been lagging in vaccination, with only 7.8% of adults getting at least a single dose by Sunday, the worst result in the European Union, according to European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

A total of about 8,000 doses were distributed to seven vaccination centres around the country, to be used over the weekend, in one of the first open-to-all COVID-19 vaccination schemes in the EU.

"We had an AstraZeneca surplus and to avoid keeping vaccines in the warehouse we decided to make this walk-in line open to anyone", said the chief of Latvia's vaccination programme, Eva Juhnevica.

Latvia and neighbouring Lithuania asked Denmark to sell them its leftover vaccines to speed up their own efforts.

In the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, a similar backlog of vaccines was cleared after being offered to the young, who were not expecting to get a shot so early.

"People over 65 in Vilnius are extremely reluctant to take AstraZeneca vaccine - so we began giving them Pfizer vaccine, and opened up AstraZeneca vaccination to priority groups containing younger people", Vilnius mayor Remigijus Simasius told Reuters. "And the vaccination is now going smoothly." (Reporting by Janis Laizans in Riga and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius Writing by Andrius Sytas Editing by Giles Elgood)