Pausing the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine is vital to maintaining confidence in Ireland’s vaccination programme, the Minister for Health has said.
Stephen Donnelly responded to criticism that officials had been “over-cautious” in suspending the jab as a precautionary step on Sunday, following concerns over a number of blood clotting incidents elsewhere in the EU.
Around 30,000 people were due to receive their first shot with the formula in Ireland in the coming week.
“There have been a few people who’ve suggested that maybe this is an overly-cautious approach,” Minister Donnelly said.
He said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) had “accepted themselves that they are approaching this with an abundance of caution.”
“I think that is the right approach to take, I think people want to have confidence in Ireland that the vaccination programme is being very well led by a clinical team, who are being cautious.”
Patient advocates in Ireland have called for a swift review into the potential links between blood clotting and the vaccine as vulnerable groups await vaccination.
Spokesperson for the Irish Cancer Society, Rachel Morrogh, said: “The national immunisation office is right to take a cautious approach because it’s important that anything that has the potential to sow seeds of doubt is dealt with effectively and efficiently.
“The decision will affect the start date for the anticipated rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine to those who are in Cohort 4, who are considered to be extremely medically vulnerable, so the Irish Cancer Society hopes that the review is swift and really conclusive.”
Spokesperson for the Irish Patients’ Association, Stephen McMahon, called for greater clarity from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) over the vaccine’s safety.
“The EMA should be seen to take a leadership role in advising all European member states when such safety issues arise on a timely basis,” he said.
“Individual member states basing decisions on varying degrees of caution, be it an abundance of caution, is not the best way forward when the domain of public trust is so fragile during this pandemic.”
'Difficult but necessary'
Chairperson of Niac, Professor Karina Butler, said it will likely be the end of the week before a further decision is made regarding the vaccine’s rollout in the State.
“I think there’s going to be a marked urgency in getting all the evidence together as fast as can,” she said.
“We’re hoping to have preliminary information back before the end of the week.”
Prof Butler said the temporary suspension of the vaccine’s distribution was a “difficult but necessary” decision.
“Above all, we want to maintain confidence in the vaccine programme, so that people can feel what they’re getting is safe, that any serious safety signal is being thoroughly investigated and if they’re getting the vaccine they can know that it is the absolute best thing for them to do at that time,” she said.
Ireland’s medicines regulator has received a small number of reports associated with blood clots following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine, but added that there is currently no indication that vaccination was the cause.