Ireland 'on track' to ease restrictions in May and vaccinate majority by June

ireland
Ireland 'On Track' To Ease Restrictions In May And Vaccinate Majority By June
Micheál Martin said the vaccine programme is still on track after news that around 550,000 extra Pfizer vaccines will arrive. Photo: Getty Images.
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Additional reporting by James Ward, PA

Ireland remains on track to meet its target of easing restrictions in May and giving four out of five people their first vaccine dose by June, the Government has said.

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste moved to reassure the public after a double setback to the vaccine rollout earlier this week was tempered by news of around 550,000 extra doses of the Pfizer jab to be delivered in quarter two this year.

News of the extra jabs secured by the European Commission came during Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, and was a “welcome relief” to ministers, sources said.

In a video posted later on Twitter, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the State was on track to exit further restrictions in early May, despite “twists and turns”.

“We’re on track as well to ease restrictions on the 4th of May so lots of things to be positive about,” he said.

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“Of course there’s going to be twists and turns. That was always going to be the case but just wanted to reassure you about those things.”

It came after health experts recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine only be given to people over 60 in Ireland, and delays to the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine over safety concerns.

Following the news of accelerated Pfizer deliveries, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told RTÉ: “The commission’s announcement in terms of securing the additional doses puts the puts the programme on track in terms of the key targets.”

He added that the Government would still be examining reduced measures for other sectors of society towards the end of April.

Sources said the Government is still hopeful that 80 per cent of the adult population will be vaccinated by June.

A statement issued after Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting said the Government is “recalibrating its approach” to the rollout.

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“The immediate focus of the vaccine plan is on those at higher risk and those aged 60 and over, and that rollout is continuing. The remainder of the population in order of age will follow,” the statement said.

“The Government will continue to make every effort to ensure that the vaccine rollout is a successful one so that we can all look forward to the restrictions being lifted over the next while as we look forward to the summer.”

There was no mention of the target to vaccinate all adults by September.

Bumpy week

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told Newstalk: “It’s been a bumpy week, a very busy week. But ultimately where we’re at right now is, we’re still on target.

“The programme will be changing and reprofiling. We’ve done this before and we will do it again before this is all over.

“But we’re working hard to make sure we do the best that we can do, which is get the vaccines out as they come into the country.”

One possibility to speed up the rollout discussed at Cabinet was longer intervals between vaccine doses, with studies showing a high level of immunity after a single dose.

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It is understood the issue is under review and no decision has been made.

The Government is hopeful that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still be given approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) at a meeting next Tuesday.

On Tuesday, J&J delayed distribution of its vaccine to Europe after US regulators recommended a pause to give time to investigate reports of a rare blood-clotting side effect.

The move was made out of an “abundance of caution”, the US Food and Drugs Administration and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said in a joint statement.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland’s share of roughly 550,000 doses from the EU will help to make up the shortfall caused by uncertainties over the J&J vaccine. Ireland had been due to receive 600,000 doses of the single-shot jab by the end of June.

Hospital low

To date Ireland has administered 1,076,216 vaccines – 758,763 first doses and 317,453 second doses.

There were 12 additional deaths related to Covid-19 and another 431 confirmed cases reported on Wednesday, the Department of Health said. Four of the deaths occurred in April, two in March and six in January.

On Thursday morning, the number of Covid-19 patients in public hospitals reached a low not seen since the beginning of October.

There were 174 patients hospitalised last night according to the HSE, with 48 in intensive care.

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