Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he fears Covid-19 vaccine “apathy” in Ireland more than vaccine hesitancy.
Concern has been expressed in some European countries that public confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine waned as several governments paused or limited its use following reports of rare blood clots.
Irish health officials are now expected to shortly decide if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be rolled out in the Republic, after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Tuesday it had found a possible link between the vaccine and rare blood clotting issues in a small number of adults in the United States.
Asked about vaccine hesitancy on the Dermot & Dave show on Today FM, Mr Varadkar said it was “a bit of a worry”.
They may change their minds if the ability to travel and attend mass events is linked to it
“We expect there may be 10 to 15 per cent of people who will refuse the vaccine and just don’t want it, although, they may change their minds if the ability to travel and attend mass events is linked to it,” he said.
“One thing I’m a little more worried about than hesitancy is vaccine apathy.
“They found in some countries, like Israel was one, is that there’s a lot of people who aren’t afraid of getting the vaccine – they just don’t really get around to it.
“And when the numbers go down low and people start going back to their normal lives and there aren’t many deaths, it kind of falls down the priority and people say, oh I’ll get a vaccine but I’ll get it later.”
Mr Varadkar said herd immunity was the main goal: “What we really need for this to work fully is to get about 80 per cent of people vaccinated, that’s where you start to hit herd immunity, where the virus just doesn’t have anywhere to go.”
Johnson & Johnson approval
Meanwhile, a senior medic told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland it was likely that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) would approve the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with the provision of an age limit.
Consultant Haematologist Dr Denis O’Keefe said Niac had to weigh up the “very small risk” from the vaccine versus the risk of Covid-19.
Dr O’Keeffe pointed out that of the eight cases of clotting identified in the US, where seven million doses had been given, there had been only one death. Clotting incidents were treatable, he said, and now there was heightened awareness.
“It makes a great deal of sense to use Johnson & Johnson because it’s a one shot dose,” he said.
Earlier on Newstalk Breakfast, Dr Mary Favier of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) said all vaccines were very effective and it was important to add the Johnson & Johnson one to the Republic's rollout.
Medics now had a better idea of the side effects so they could look out for them, she added.
Safety first was important, she said, and Niac would advise accordingly.
Dr Favier also called for doses for GPs to be ringfenced so that they could complete vaccinations for the over-70s and those at risk in the over-60 category.