AstraZeneca and J&J deemed to be safe for over-50s
THE exit from lockdown is set to be given a boost as more than half a million people in their 50s can expect to be offered a Covid-19 vaccine earlier than expected.
It is understood that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be recommended for people over 50 by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).
NIAC is also believed to be recommending that the age restriction on the use of AstraZeneca vaccine be eased, allowing it be offered to people over 50.
Currently it is confined to people over 60 and is just being given to people in their 60s.
This will allow the HSE greater flexibility with AstraZeneca for people in their 50s and 60s depending on supplies and deliveries.
Around 550,000 people aged 50 to 59 were expected to start vaccinations in June but this can be brought forward with 40,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine due this month and 132,000 shots expected in May .
Around 600,000 in total are due before the end of June.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan will make the final decision on the recommendation from NIAC, which yesterday finalised its assessment of age-related risk of the jab linked with a very small chance of unusual blood clots.
NIAC is understood to have said it can be given to people over 50 and it also allows for its use in younger age groups where there is no alternative.
It can also be given to vulnerable groups such as the homeless who may be more difficult to reach for a second dose.
The decision will feed into the choices made by Dr Holohan and Nphet this week on what is expected to be a very controlled plan to exit lockdown over May, June and July to be considered by Government and revealed on Friday.
Some 25pc of the population has had a first vaccine dose but “in order to protect the vital work of the vaccination programme in offering us all protection from Covid-19 it is important to remain vigilant,” Dr Holohan said.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) last week said the benefit of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has a 72pc efficacy, still outweighed the very small risk of unusual blood clots with low platelets.
All of the cases occurred in people under 60 within three weeks of vaccination.
Meanwhile, around 260,201 people in their 60s – who are being offered the AstraZeneca vaccine – have registered for a jab.
The HSE portal is open to people aged 60 today.
AstraZeneca has also been linked to the same unusual form of blood clots and lowering the age from 60 to 50 may send an important signal to the public about its safety.
The fact that people in their 60s have no other choice than AstraZeneca has led to some GPs saying they are bombarded with calls from worried patients.
Dr Madeleine Ní Dhálaigh, a member of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP committee, said her practice in Castlerea, Co Roscommon, has been inundated with calls regarding the AstraZeneca jab.
“There are very few that are hesitant about Pfizer,” she said
“But we are being bombarded, really getting multitudes of phone calls regarding hesitancy in the AstraZeneca in the 60- to 69-year-olds. There is a lot of concern due to various messages coming through to them on clotting.
“We are just reassuring them it is a very, very safe vaccine, and the clotting issue is a tiny risk associated with younger people.”
Despite the low risk of blood clotting events, Ireland and other European countries suspended its use except for those aged 60 to 69.
Public health expert Professor Anthony Staines accused the EMA and NIAC of making a “dog’s breakfast” of communicating the low risks associated with AstraZeneca in the current cohort of 60-69.
“We know the risk of Covid-19 itself,” he said.
“Getting a serious clotting disorder with Covid-19 is substantially higher than the risk of the vaccine. But the risk of clotting is higher as you get younger.
“The evidence is all these vaccines are effective, and all these vaccines have very low rates of side-effects.”
The Taoiseach announced on Sunday that one million people have now had their first vaccine dose.
Meanwhile the EU is to sue AstraZeneca over failing to deliver promised millions of vaccines.
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland