HSE wants age restrictions lowered to accelerate rollout and avoid wasting precious jabs
Around 200,000 people aged 45 to 49 could be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in June if the HSE gets the go-ahead to change restrictions around the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The HSE is believed to be asking if the age restriction around the one-shot vaccine can be lowered from 50 to 45.
It would mean some 200,000 doses of the one-shot jab – which might end up surplus and not be used under the existing age limit – could be administered to the 45 to 49 year age group instead in June.
The move would accelerate the vaccination roll-out and help ease the way for more significant lifting of restrictions over June and July.
Around 605,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are due here this quarter with the bulk – an estimated 432,000 of these – expected to arrive in June.
However, the proposal has to get the safety green light from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) who are due to finalise their recommendations to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly this week.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday indicated he would support the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the under-50s, saying: “We want every vaccine used. Of all the vaccines we have I hope that none would go to waste. Also, we would protect people faster and get as many people protected as fast as we can. I hope it works out and it’s something that I would support,” he told RTÉ Radio 1.
Mr Martin (60) was among thousands who got the AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday at Cork City Hall.
Under the revised HSE plan all people over 50 should have got a first dose of vaccine by early June. People in their 50s have been registering since early last week.
Once they all get a first dose by early June it could leave around 200,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson left but health chiefs unable to use it outside of the cohort of people aged over 50.
Rather than facing the possibility of donating the surplus to another country the hope is that the doses could be offered to people aged 45-50 if age restrictions are changed.
The original decision last month to confine the Johnson & Johnson jab to the over-50s was made due to a very small risk of an unusual blood clot.
The AstraZeneca vaccine can currently also only be given to the over-50s but there is unlikely to be a change to its age restrictions. It is also linked to a very small risk of the unusual blood clots and is currently being administered to people in their 60s.
The HSE’s deliveries of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine have significantly increased this month and it also has access to smaller stocks of the Moderna jab.
Meanwhile, the Aviva stadium in Dublin was busy from early morning yesterday as socially distanced lines of people who had registered for the vaccine moved efficiently to get their first dose of AstraZeneca.
Mr Donnelly said yesterday around 1.3 million first doses have been administered since the start of the vaccination roll-out and nearly half a million adults are fully vaccinated.
A record number of vaccines were administered on Friday when 52,000 got a jab. This week’s target is to administer 250,000 to 270,000 doses.
Ireland has pre-purchased around 18 million doses of vaccine for 2021 and will have a surplus by the end of summer or autumn.
Countries which have fully vaccinated their population are under pressure not to hoard vaccines and instead donate them to poorer countries in need of supply.
The Taoiseach said yesterday that he “felt great” after getting the jab which was administered by South Infirmary Victoria Hospital nurse Brenda Dillon.
He said Ireland will join the EU’s digital green certificate scheme which is aimed at resuming some form of foreign travel within Europe in the coming months. He said there are possibilities that could open up for people to travel within Europe at the end of the summer.
“By the latter part of the summer possibilities may open up but we have to track the virus, keep on top of it and keep the pressure on it,” he said.
“We are set to have a good summer if we can keep the progress going and vaccination is certainly helping to bring down severe illness, bringing down deaths and hospitalisations.”