As production problems persist, many vulnerable people are still waiting for their jab
Never were the emotions of a nation so wrapped in one tiny vial.
We have seen the elation after people get the Covid-19 vaccine and the dejection of the disappointment in those whose clinic appointment has been cancelled after a delivery no-show. For tens of thousands of others who are waiting, it promises a release from a year of fear.
So it’s no wonder the battle over the failure to meet vaccine supply expectations between health officials and AstraZeneca has become a fraught drama.
It was all so different in January. The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was supposed to be our “game changer”. Ministers and health officials were singing its praises.
It was easy to handle and we could not wait to get our hands on it. It could be kept in a fridge rather than an ultra-cold freezer. The UK approved it in December but we had to wait until the end of January when it was given the green light. It was supposed to form the cornerstone of the vaccine roll-out for the over-70s here. The vaccine is delivered in two shots with the second given 4-12 weeks after the first.
Ireland has advanced purchase agreements to buy 3.3 million doses of the vaccine, to be delivered in stages.
Deliveries so far
Figures released this week show up to the end of last week there ere 122,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine delivered here. This includes 86,400 to the end of February and 36,000 in March. Ireland has found itself caught up in the row between Astra Zeneca and the European Commission. It started when the EU’s order of 80 million doses of the vaccine by the end of March turned out to be much lower with initial estimates of around 31 million. This was later reviewed to 40 million.
There was more bad news today that the supply of Astra Zeneca vaccine this quarter will now been reduced to 30 million doses. That will have knock-on effects here. The HSE said it could not say what level of doses will be rolled out next week and put it at between 75,000 and 85,000.The Astra Zeneca vaccine is currently given to healthcare workers and people with underlying illnesses leaving them at high risk of Covid-19.
AstraZeneca has said that its contract is on a best-effort basis. It said it has suffered production problems at plants that make the vaccine in Europe – particularly its site in Belgium. The sites with the lowest productivity in the network are those supplying Europe. The production problem is in the manufacture of the vaccine itself.
The tensions came to a head last week when Italy blocked a shipment of more than 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines destined for Australia. It is the first use of an export-control system drawn up by the EU. It said it intervened because of the size of the shipment – more than 250,700 doses – destined for Australia which it did not consider a vulnerable nation.
The HSE, which has borne the brunt of the public's frustration that we are lagging in vaccine roll-out, has spoken of the problems dealing with AstraZeneca over supply schedules. One delivery dropped from 52,000 to 10,000 with short notice. AstraZeneca has now appointed a country manager here which should help with communication.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee has recommended that the vaccine can be used in the over-70s. Initially there was not enough evidence of its efficacy in clinical trials but now real world research shows that it provides good protection to older people. This has yet to be accepted by the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and his deputy Dr Ronan Glynn who said the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should be used for the over-70s.
The vaccine has an advantage in that the second dose could be given in three months. This would mean there could be greater use of supplies in administering more as first doses and giving a greater number of people a level of protection earlier.
A spokesman for the company in Ireland recently said: “AstraZeneca confirms today that its most recent Q2 forecast for the delivery of its Covid-19 vaccine aims to deliver in line with its contract with the European Commission. As per this contract, approximately half of the expected volume is due to come from the EU supply chain, while the remainder would come from its international supply network.
"At this stage AstraZeneca is working to increase productivity in its EU supply chain and to continue to make use of its global capability in order to achieve delivery of 180 million doses to the EU in the second quarter.”