Pharmacies can start giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to 18-34 year olds from next Monday, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has revealed.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland, the minister said people in the age group can 'opt-in' and begin registering online or contacting their local pharmacy to book a vaccine.
He said the idea was suggested in Monday's Cabinet meeting - and they are now "operationalising" the process.
This means that young people could be vaccinated one to two months earlier than planned, if they opt in, Mr Donnelly said.
There will be two options available to the 18-34 age group. Pharmacies will begin administering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to 180-34 year olds from Monday, while vaccination centres will begin offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to the group from the following Monday.
Minister Donnelly said, “about 750 pharmacies across the country will being vaccinating people aged 18-34” from Monday July 5.
He described the development as a “huge benefit to both young people and society as a whole”.
Those in the age bracket seeking a vaccine are advised to contact their pharmacy and request a vaccine.
There is about 40,000 Johnson and Johnson vaccines currently in pharmacies, and through July, there will be a total of 205,000-210,000 of the single dose vaccines delivered.
From the following Monday, July 12, an online option to register for a vaccine in a vaccination centre will open for the 18-34 age group.
“In parallel to that we are opening up AstraZeneca and Janssen option if people want to get vaccinated earlier for the entire 18 to 34 year old group,” he said.
Those in the age group can then register for an AstraZeneca vaccines through vaccine centres.
The minister said “supplies are limited for both AstraZeneca and Janssen”.
AstraZeneca vaccines will not currently be available to the 18-34 group in pharmacies.
Registrations for the 30- 34 age group will also open from next week. From Friday, those aged 34 will be able to register on the HSE online portal.
Speaking on the programme, the minister said those who have been vaccinated can expect to receive their QR code of vaccination by July 19, “through the post or by email”.
He said in the next 10 to 11 days, those who have already received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be receiving their second dose, and those in the 60-69 age bracket will be fully vaccinated by July 12 instead of the target date of July 19.
In terms of a domestic vaccine passport for indoor dining, the minister said “I believe it can be done”, adding that government will be looking at how it has been rolled out successfully in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
The decision comes on the back of the back new Niac advice that the two vaccines could now be given to younger cohorts.
Significant acceleration of our vaccine programme:— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) July 2, 2021
* 18-34-year-olds can begin to access Janssen vaccine in pharmacies from Monday. pic.twitter.com/Yhu5k7c4Xc
It comes as the country is facing into a devastating fourth Covid-19 wave this summer that will cost lives and threaten to leave hospitals struggling.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has warned the surge triggered by the highly infectious Delta variant, which will hit in August and September, would be unstoppable.
An accelerated roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines to younger age groups will fail to halt the spiral in cases in July and August, but will help bring it under control in September.
“We are not going to stop this happening. This variant has sufficient in the way of fitness to become dominant across Europe. It’s a question of when rather than if,” he said.
“We are facing a significant wave of Delta-driven transmission. We are in the same position as all the rest of western Europe.”
The variant has jumped from around half the cases of the virus to 70pc in a short space of time and is behind outbreaks across the country, including gatherings outdoors.
The HSE has drawn up a new plan to offer Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, previously confined to over-50s, to younger age groups. From next week, people aged 30 to 34 will be invited to register for a vaccine.
The Delta variant is two-and-a-half times more infectious than the form of coronavirus circulating last summer.
It is behind a series of outbreaks across the country, including 200 cases in Dungarvan in Waterford linked to a pub, as well as flare-ups in Athlone and Sligo, where it has spread easily.
There is particular concern about the growing spread of the virus in Dublin.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: “It’s not about one workplace, one pub, one family. Once it gets into the community it is spreading much easier than we have seen.”
It comes as 5,000 deaths from the virus in this country were reported, with 448 new cases.
The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital is stable at 44, with 14 people seriously ill in intensive care.
However, there were 12 additional admissions in the previous 24 hours.
It was concerning that hospitalisations which were falling were now stabilising again.
Professor Philip Nolan, who tracks the virus, said incidence of the virus is now growing at 2pc a day and the R number is above 1, which means the spread is growing after a period of slow decline.
The extent of its impact on hospitalisations and severe illness is still emerging but it is likely to double the risk of somebody being admitted to a ward.
The highest risks are to people who are unvaccinated or have received just one dose.
The incidence is increasing across all age groups, from five to 65.
The wave could be smaller because the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) intervened early before the reopening of indoor hospitality, officials told yesterday’s briefing.
The other positive is the level of Covid-19 vaccination.
As of yesterday, 45pc of the adult population was fully vaccinated. The HSE plans to administer 330,000 doses this week.
The median age of people who are getting the virus is 26 and over 83pc are under 45.
Asked about indoor hospitality, Dr Holohan said he believed it should be possible to reopen under the proposed system of only allowing the fully vaccinated or people who have had an infection in the previous nine months in as customers.
If it is not able to be implemented, “we could not recommend indoor activities of that kind”, he added.
It was important commercial activity gets a chance to resume, he added.
“This is not going to be over in four weeks. Any honest assessment is that this will be with us for some time,” he said, saying some arrangement should be attempted rather than waiting for the crisis to be over.
The officials also said that communions and confirmations should not go ahead.
It was not realistic to think that families would not socialise after these events, they said.
Questioned on how soon it had indicated that to the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly that it was considering restricting entry to pubs and restaurants to people who were vaccinated, Dr Holohan said it would have been signalled, along with other issues, over the course of the weekend before Nphet met on Monday.
Earlier, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said if the worst-case scenario set out by Nphet were to materialise, it would be “explosive” for the health service as it struggles to recover from the cyber-attack.
HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said if the figures for people getting infected with the Delta virus became high enough it would cause harm, although vaccinations would provide a huge “wall of defence but not a complete wall of defence”.
“What we are now seeing in countries where it is emerging it that is can cause illness even in younger age groups who are not vulnerable,” he said.
“If enough 25-year-olds are infected with Covid-19 somebody, somewhere, is going to get sick and require hospitalisation and intensive care.”
However, more information is needed in the coming weeks about the potential impact of the variant.
This article was updated on July 5, 2021 to acknowledge that a line stating 45pc of the population was vaccinated referred to the adult population.