The spotlight on the vaccination rollout is intensifying – Health Correspondent Eilish O’Regan gives us the lowdown on Ireland’s progression ahead of tomorrow’s 82pc target deadline
Another Covid-19 wave, fuelled by the Delta variant, is on the way but how severe it will be is still unknown.
The spotlight on the vaccination rollout is intensifying.
We have been warned of exponential growth in the spread of the virus in August until more vaccination and immunity through infection slows it down in September and October.
So is the HSE meeting its targets at this crucial juncture and what can we expect in the next three months?
The vaccination aim was to have around 4.5m doses administered by today. It will not not be met although, in fairness, it is near enough.
The most up-to-date figure from the HSE for Monday night is that 4.1m vaccines have been given so far. So far 44pc of the population is fully vaccinated and 67pc have had one dose.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said a high level of transmission of infection over the coming weeks and months presents a number of risks to people who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
He said a number of vulnerable groups are not yet fully vaccinated and remain at significant risk to the severe impact of Covid-19.
In his letter to Government on Monday he pointed out this includes 75pc of 60-69 year olds and 46pc of 50-59 year olds who have not yet received second dose.
Some people with underlying illnesses in Cohort 7 also need a second dose.
Dr Holohan pointed out that Covid-19 vaccines appear to offer somewhat less protection against the Delta variant.
"For those individuals with only one dose of a two-dose vaccine, vaccine effectiveness in preventing symptomatic infection with the Delta variant is about 60-65pc of vaccine effectiveness against Alpha variant. "
However, the difference is smaller following the second dose, with vaccine effectiveness against Delta at 90pc against symptomatic infection.
"Fortunately, vaccines appear to be equally effective in preventing severe disease following infection with Alpha or Delta.
"Nonetheless, the difference in vaccine effectiveness in preventing infection means that as Delta comes to dominate there is a fraction of the population with only one dose of vaccine who are at increased risk of becoming infected, of transmitting that infection to others, leading to a surge of disease in an incompletely protected cohort."
The rollout has reached peak numbers in recent weeks but there is no guarantee this will continue even with proposed changes to offer AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines to younger age groups
The HSE managed to administer over 100,000 doses in the first two days of this week. Last week it gave out 350,000 doses. Pfizer brought forward some doses originally due in quarter three allowing for the acceleration.
The original plan was to just confine the rollout to Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from the middle of July.
But this week the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) gave permission to offer AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines to people under 50. It means more vaccines, which might have had to be given away to a poorer country, will be at the disposal of the HSE.
The hope is that lifting the age ban on AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines will speed up the vaccination of younger age groups.
It will certainly happen faster but the extent of the speed is still in question.
This is because of uncertainty over promised supplies.
It emerged that less than 80,000 doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine arrived in June, compared to the expected 470,000. Another 70,000 are expected in July. The advantage of this vaccine however is that it only requires one dose.
Pharmacies received around 40,000 for the over 50s and some 6,000 have been given so far.
But demand has been low so it is likely that they will be given to younger people.
Around 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine arrived yesterday but this is largely spoken for in second doses, mostly for people in their 60s are promised to be fully vaccinated by mid July.
Around 500,000 are expected in August but the delivery has not been confirmed.
As of now, the people aged 35 to 39 are being offered a vaccine.
First doses take until the end of July. It will be the end of August before all people in their 30s are fully vaccinated.
In his letter, Dr Holohan said that should case number of coronavirus increase in line with the higher estimates of 60pc increased transmissibility of the Delta variant, the benefit of all vaccines will be favourable to all age groups including those aged 18-50 years.
"In that context, the Niac have recommended that those aged 18-49 years who wish to opt for earlier vaccination can be offered an adenoviral vector vaccine (AstraZeneca or Johnson and Johnson) subject to informed consent.
"The HSE should now seek to put in place appropriate organisation and consent arrangements as soon as possible such that those who can benefit from this updated advice are afforded the opportunity to do so."
Decisions have yet to be made on whether to offer vaccines to children aged 12 to 15. Again Dr Holohan made reference to this in his letter. He said beyond September the virus will be sustained by infection in children and adolescents, who are not currently eligible for vaccination.
"If children are less susceptible or less likely to transmit infection, or a decision is made to vaccinate those under 16 years of age, the wave of infection will peak earlier and decline more rapidly.”
That will strengthen the case for vaccinating children, particularly those who are vulnerable due to medical conditions.
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland