In a game-changing move for many younger people waiting on a Covid-19 vaccine in Ireland, those aged between 18 and 34 will be able to get a jab through a pharmacy from Monday and in mass vaccination centres later this month.
Here is everything you need to know about the changes to the rollout — including when you can expect your jab, where you will get it, and if you will have a choice of which vaccine you take.
So how are vaccinations accelerating?
Earlier this week, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) cleared the AstraZeneca and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines for use in those under the age of 40.
Off the back of this, the Government has announced that anyone aged 18 to 34 who wishes to have their vaccination accelerated can opt in to receive one of these vaccines.
Janssen vaccines will become available to this age group in pharmacies from next Monday, July 5th.
This age group will also be able to register online from Monday, July 12th for an appointment during July for a Janssen or AstraZeneca vaccine through the country's mass vaccination centres.
Why is this change being made?
Niac has said there is a renewed urgency to complete vaccination of as many people as possible due to the rise of the more transmissible Delta variant.
The group has said that it is still preferable that those aged 18 to 49 be given mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer/BionNTech and Moderna.
However, in light of rising numbers of the Delta variant, it has recommended that those aged 18 to 49 years can “opt in” for an adenoviral vector vaccine (AstraZeneca and Janssen) in order to gain earlier protection.
“We want to make sure every vaccine is used,” Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
What happens if I want an accelerated vaccine?
Consent mechanisms will be put in place by the HSE to ensure that anyone under 35 who wants to be vaccinated sooner with an AstraZeneca or Janssen jab is “appropriately informed” of the rare side effects associated with these adenoviral vector vaccines.
These vaccines were previously restricted to use in older cohorts, due to concerns surrounding rare but serious instances of blood clots.
Will I have the option of an mRNA vaccine?
Younger age groups who do not wish to receive an adenoviral vaccine will be offered an mRNA vaccination in due course, the Department of Health has confirmed.
Choosing an mRNA vaccine also means choosing to wait — a maximum of no more than two months is likely, depending on your age, for your turn to register on the online portal.
Registration for an mRNA vaccine for those aged 30 to 34 will begin on Friday, July 9th, starting with those aged 34 on that day.
Minister Donnelly has said the estimate for people aged 25 to 29 to get their first dose, should they wait for mRNA, would be early August, with people aged 18 to 24 waiting until mid-August.
That means it would be early to mid-September before they get their second dose and are fully vaccinated.
How do the accelerated vaccines change the timeline?
Those who opt for accelerated vaccination will receive their vaccine up to two months earlier than anticipated.
“To be able to pull forward a huge number of people from September to August, and some from August into July, is incredibly valuable,” Minister Donnelly has said.
People opting to receive the Janssen or AstraZeneca jab is also likely to put a major dent in the list for those waiting to receive an mRNA option.
So can I just walk into a pharmacy next week and get the vaccine?
From Monday, the Janssen vaccine will become available to those aged 18 to 34 in over 700 pharmacies nationwide — subject to supplies.
A list of participating pharmacies will be available on HSE.ie and people are asked to contact their local participating pharmacy from Monday to book an appointment.
Chief executive of the Irish Pharmacy Union, Darragh O'Loughlin, has said his members are “ready and raring to go” to provide the vaccine to the under-35s and already had stocks and protocols in place, as they are currently offering the same vaccine to the over-50s.
What supplies of AstraZeneca and Janssen are expected?
Pharmacies across Ireland already have around 40,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine in stock.
Approximately 205,000 to 210,000 further Janssen doses are due for delivery in July and more in August, while 100,000 AstraZeneca doses are expected to arrive this month, the Health Minister has said.
“Supplies of Janssen and AstraZeneca will be somewhat limited during July, but we expect that supplies will be able to accommodate a significant number of this age group through July,” Mr Donnelly said.
Will the accelerated vaccines prevent a fourth Covid-19 wave?
The speeding up of the Covid-19 vaccination programme next week to 18-34 year olds will not “materially alter” the course of what the country will be dealing with in July and August, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn has warned.
“It may well alter what we have to deal with beyond that and obviously we will update our modelling and more information will come out around transmissibility and severity of the Delta variant,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
“But we are where we are, we've got to deal with what is facing us and I know it's difficult for people to understand that something so significant could be coming when we've seen such a relative period of stability.”
Much of Europe will be in a fourth wave of the disease in three or four weeks' time, Dr Glynn said.