The Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is expected to roll out in Ireland as early as next week.
The Irish Times reports that the Government expects to begin using the vaccine following approval from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).
Niac will meet today to discuss the vaccine’s use, with it understood there is pressure from Government to issue an opinion after the meeting, although Niac told The Irish Times that any new recommendations would be issued next week.
Political leaders have warned that the single-dose vaccine is vital to hitting targets and easing restrictions.
At meetings on Wednesday, senior officials including Niac chairwoman Prof Karina Butler were told of the urgency of the situation, according to people briefed on the discussions.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is understood to have said he expected Niac’s advice on the vaccine after today’s meeting and to make recommendations to the Government on Friday.
Speaking on Thursday morning, Minister Eamon Ryan said that the decision to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be key to the country’s vaccination programme and expressed the hope it could be used in those over the age of 50.
The letter that Niac had sent to the Government about use of the AstraZeneca vaccine could have been interpreted in a number of ways, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
“It wasn't ruling out that that type of vaccine couldn't be used in a younger cohort,” the Minister said.
“I'm hopeful that there will be similar flexibility in regard to Johnson & Johnson because I think if we can get it into the over 50s, that would mean in June 600,000 doses — and because it's a single shot dose — that has a huge effect in terms of meeting those targets.
“The reason we would hope to do that is it would save lives. It would lead to a much faster deployment of the vaccines, reduce the risk of transmission. I’m hoping that will be the outcome.”
Niac will also today consider the possibility of extending the period between the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which would enable more first shots to be given.
Sources believe the group will approve an extension of the period, but only to six weeks in accordance with the vaccine’s licence.
On Wednesday night, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting the Government could still hit its target of vaccinating 80 per cent of adults by the end of June – if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is cleared.
Mr Varadkar warned the target may be hindered by a lack of supply and people not taking up the vaccine as case numbers drop.
His comments came after the Taoiseach told the Dáil that the Government’s goal of vaccinating 80 per cent of adults by June still stood.
Issues with supplies have created numerous setbacks for the vaccination programme, with news on Tuesday that a delivery of AstraZeneca jabs this week had fallen from an expected 45,000 to just 9,000.
Approximately 14,400 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine delivered last week must wait until guidance is issued by Niac.
Meanwhile, the Government has signalled that a further easing of restrictions will proceed in May, with hairdressers, non-essential retail and religious services prioritised.
Wednesday saw 15 additional deaths related to Covid-19 in Ireland, as well as 401 new cases of the virus.