With unprecedented global demand and issues sourcing raw materials, fewer people than hoped will get the jab in the coming weeks
It’s the reality we cannot wish away.
Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers look set to continue to disappoint with smaller or stalled deliveries at various points in the coming months, and targets for inoculating the population will need to be rewritten.
People who were expecting the jab will be left waiting longer and will worry if they will lose out.
Yet, time is of the essence in this vaccine roll-out.
Vaccine manufacturers are facing unprecedented demand from countries which have advance purchase orders for deliveries. It has even created suspicion that some countries are being favoured over others. The European Union’s row with AstraZeneca and the recent decision by Italy to block the export of 250,000 doses of vaccine to Australia show how high the stakes are.
Now comes the news that there are potential shortages around many of the raw materials needed by manufacturers such as plastic bioreactor bags, tubing and medical-grade glass.
This also raises the risk that companies will stockpile to meet orders. World Health Organisation chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that companies producing vaccines should team up with other companies that have excess capacity to help out and that intellectual property rights should be shared. The shortage of some raw materials could also affect other non Covid-19 vaccines.
Ireland had little choice but to hitch its wagon to the European Commission which has secured agreements for around 2.6 billion doses of different vaccines.
Ireland gets a share of over 1pc and so far has enough advance-purchase agreements for 18.5 million doses, enough to vaccinated 10.3m people. The most recent added to the portfolio was Novavax for 1.1 million doses and Valneva – both have yet to be approved.
The chances of getting “surplus” vaccine from other countries is wishful thinking. What leader is going to give away their vaccine supply? It’s also essential that any vaccines are assessed for safety and efficacy by the European Medicines Agency before they can be administered.
The Oireachtas health committee was told by HSE chief Paul Reid that the expectation was Ireland would get over 1.2 million doses in the first three months of the year. This would include doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford AstraZeneca.
The most changes to delivery schedules have been made by Oxford AstraZeneca. Unfortunately, the total number of vaccines available here in the first three months will be around 1.1 million.
The Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which is expected to be approved this week, has been hailed as a gamechanger because it involves just one shot. However, we learned yesterday that the first supplies here in April are likely to be low and most of the 600,000 doses will arrive in May and June.
It emerged yesterday Johnson and Johnson told the European Union it is facing supply issues that may impact on plans to deliver 55 million doses of the vaccine over the second quarter. It has issues with the supply of vaccine ingredients and equipment, and it is under stress to meet the target.
It is not impossible to meet it but it is urging caution. It started rolling out its vaccines in the United States this month with a target of 100 million doses by May but it has halved its delivery figures for March to 20 million.
We were promised an “abundance of vaccine” from April, with over 250,000 doses available per week. There will be more vaccine, but whether it will live up to expectations remains to be seen.
The test for the HSE is to administer it and the plan is to roll it out through vaccination centres, GPs and pharmacists.
There are around 9,000 vaccinators who have completed training and thousands more are being recruited. The centres will be open for 12 hours a day. But first we need to get enough doses.
The target to administer 100,000 doses a week this month has had to be revised. Over the past two weeks the doses were down around 25,000 and this week 84,000 are being administered, a shortfall of 4,000.
Problems with Moderna supplies means around 11,000 people aged 80 to 84 will face a delay of around two weeks. The plan is still to have all over 70s vaccinated fully by the end of May and there is the added complication now of identifying around 160,000 people with underlying illnesses who would be at very high risk if they caught Covid-19.
Progress is being made although it is not as fast as people would like.
So far, 363,601 doses have been administered and 149,721 people are now fully vaccinated.