The HSE is redrawing its vaccination programme to include a more rapid rollout in the coming weeks, while senior Government officials are finalising plans for the next phase of reopening being unveiled on Thursday.
As The Irish Times reports, the Cabinet on Tuesday approved advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) which will enable a faster rollout of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines in the coming weeks, prompting Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to declare: “It is full steam ahead.”
Senior officials in the HSE are now consulting with the Government’s vaccination taskforce to take account of the availability of the Johnson & Johnson shot and the wider use of AstraZeneca.
Mr Donnelly acknowledged on Tuesday the programme will not meet its targets for April because of delays in supply and restrictions on the use of some vaccines, saying that the total for the month is likely to be “700,000-plus” – significantly less than the 860,000 previously hoped for.
However, senior officials say the availability of the J&J vaccine, and the easing of restrictions on AstraZeneca, will enable the programme to make up for lost ground and reach its goal of giving at least a first dose to more than 80 per cent of adults by the end of June.
The HSE is likely to outline the new plan at its weekly press conference on Thursday. Both the HSE and vaccine experts are now examining the logistics of running an inoculation programme using four different vaccines.
It is understood officials may look at the potential of allocating specific vaccines to specific age groups, which could be easier operationally.
That could open up another age cohort for vaccination to be done in parallel with an older cohort.
One source said that 60-69 year olds would soon be given the AstraZeneca vaccine. “We will move to the 50-59 year olds with Johnson & Johnson. So what do we do with all the Pfizer shots? Could we do the 40-49 bracket?” they speculated.
Cabinet sources described Tuesday’s meeting as upbeat, at the news on vaccines and as Ministers prepare to announce reopening plans on Thursday.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet on Wednesday to consider its advice on the next phase of reopening, due next Monday.