Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine would be used as quickly as possible if the Cabinet gives approval to a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) today.
Ireland’s vaccination programme received a double boost on Monday night when Niac gave the go-ahead for the J&J vaccine for over-50s and relaxed its restrictions on the AstraZeneca jab.
Speaking to journalists on his way into the Cabinet meeting, Mr Donnelly said if approved it would be “full steam ahead”. Plans were being put in place so after Cabinet approval “we can move immediately.”
All vaccines would be available and the plan was to move to the 50-59 age group as quickly as possible, he added.
He said Niac was continuing to assess all information as it became available and could make further recommendations on widening availability on some or all of the vaccines.
“This is good news.”
Cabinet approval will enable a quicker rollout – the HSE could begin administering the single-dose J&J shot this week.
The Niac advice will also be considered by the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, before he briefs Government on easing restrictions.
Dr Holohan and his colleagues on the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) are due to meet on Wednesday before advising the Government on the plan for reopening, which is likely to be approved by the Cabinet on Thursday.
Immunovirology expert Prof Liam Fanning welcomed the vaccine news, but expressed concern about the language used which he feared would “feed into the negative thought processes” of those who were hesitant to be vaccinated.
Given the (low) risk profile of the vaccines, he felt that the age bands could be widened. There were many daily activities that put people at much higher risk, he told Newstalk.
Niac were being “a little bit too cautious,” he said.
However, he felt that the decision to approve the vaccines for those with challenging lifestyles was laudable.
On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Ray Walley of the ICGP’s Covid committee, also welcomed the decision on Johnson & Johnson because of its easy storage and portability which meant GPs could take it to patients in the community.
Dr Walley pointed out that there had been 30 changes with regard to vaccine rollout for a variety of reasons, but that the country was now in a better position than it had been six to eight weeks ago.
Ireland had done remarkably well in terms of coping with Covid, he said. While the downward number had stalled of late, this was to be expected given how highly infectious the B117 variant was.
Dr Walley said that GPs in north Dublin had noticed a spike in patients requiring Covid tests in recent days and this would be reflected in the number of cases in the coming days. “We’ve got to continue to look at what is happening around us.”
It was appropriate to be cautiously optimistic, but we should also remain vigilant, he said.
Vaccine immunologist Dr Ann Moore of University College Cork also welcomed the J&J decision, even with the age limitations.
She said that by the time the over-50 cohort has been vaccinated there will be a better understanding of the side effects and the vaccine could be rolled out to younger people as well.