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Roll-out of Oxford jab to older age groups hinges on crucial decision by European watchdog today

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Resident May McLaughlin (102) from Crumlin, with Valerie
Joy, director of nursing, after receiving her Covid jab in
Lisheen nursing home in Rathcoole, Dublin earlier this month

Resident May McLaughlin (102) from Crumlin, with Valerie Joy, director of nursing, after receiving her Covid jab in Lisheen nursing home in Rathcoole, Dublin earlier this month

Resident May McLaughlin (102) from Crumlin, with Valerie Joy, director of nursing, after receiving her Covid jab in Lisheen nursing home in Rathcoole, Dublin earlier this month

The planned roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine to older people here risks a hold-up if the long-awaited Oxford/AstraZeneca jab is not recommended to be given to people older than 65.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is today expected to decide the terms on which the vaccine will be licensed.

It could err on the side of caution given that only 5.7pc people involved in trials of the vaccine were over 65.

Germany took the lead yesterday in advance of approval and said the vaccine would only be given to people aged between 18 and 64.

Sources say the EMA may not make a specific recommendation, but would leave it up to EU member states to decide on whether to give it to older groups.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the HSE would await the EMA decision, which would be analysed by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee here.

The current plan here is to start giving it to over-85s first, in mid-February.

If it is not to be given to older age groups, it would mean a longer wait for vaccination by the over-70s, who will be dependent on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

It comes amid the ongoing row between AstraZeneca and the European Commission over the drug company's failure to deliver on the 81 million doses of the vaccine expected in the first quarter.

Promised

Ireland was promised 600,000 doses in the first quarter, but has been told to expect around 300,000.

HSE chief Paul Reid said yesterday that up to Sunday, 148,500 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had been administered. This rose to 161,500 on Wednesday.

They include 71,600 first doses in long-term care facilities and 89,000 doses among frontline health workers. Of these, 76,100 have got a first dose and 13,000 have got the second dose.

In the coming week 46,000 second doses will be administered.

Four nursing homes are still without vaccinations due to outbreaks and it remains incomplete in 117 facilities.

If the EMA decides not to recommend the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for older people, it will mean supplies delivered here will have to be diverted from the over-70s to other cohorts.

It could mean that other outstanding residents and staff in residential care will get it sooner. There is also the possibility the HSE will move down to the key workers group while waiting for enough supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to come through for the over-70s.

There are around 500,000 people here aged over 70.

Within the older cohort in trials of the vaccine, one of 341 vaccinated people and one in a control group of 319 people without the vaccine became infected with the coronavirus, making a statistically reliable conclusion impossible.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said the company had less data than other drugmakers on the elderly because it started vaccinating older people later.

"But we have strong data showing very strong antibody production against the virus in the elderly, " he told Die Welt newspaper.


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