Cabinet has approved a recommendation from public health chiefs that the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines be administered to people over 50.
The Johnson & Johnson jab, also known as the Janssen vaccine, has been granted approval for use among the age cohort, while the restrictions on the use of AstraZeneca have been revised from over-60s only to those over 50.
The proposed changes by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) were approved at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
COVID-19 Vaccination Programme Update: pic.twitter.com/29qxMWGKZ8— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) April 27, 2021
Taoiseach Micheal Martin admitted that “a number of weeks” have been lost due to the changes to the rollout, but said it is now “full steam ahead”.
He said: “It essentially means we have 600,000 vaccines for quarter two that we didn’t have this morning, with Johnson & Johnson, which is a single-shot vaccine.
“The recommendations of NIAC are that both vaccines, the Janssen vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccines, are good, safe vaccines and the benefits clearly outweigh the risks.
“That’s good news for the vaccination program in terms of availability for over-50s. That’s AstraZeneca as well, for the over-50s.
“So it’s full steam ahead now in terms of the vaccination programme.
“Obviously we’ve lost some time. We’ve lost a number of weeks in relation to all these changes that have occurred in the context of AstraZeneca and in Janssen.
“And also with delivery schedules, but there will be significant volumes coming in next week.”
#COVIDVaccine registration is open for people aged 60. You will be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. The quickest & easiest way to register is online - you will need a:— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) April 27, 2021
Register here➡️https://t.co/nTNxEKexNZ pic.twitter.com/hRQccVoGU4
The decision by NIAC to give the go-ahead for the use of the Johnson & Johnson jab to people over the age of 50 signals a positive turn in the Government’s vaccination programme.
The expert group also relaxed its restrictions around the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to include those over the age of 50.
Previously, it has been limited to the over-60s.
Mr Martin confirmed that there has been a reduction in delivery forecasts for the Johnson & Johnson jab, but said they remain “broadly on target” for the expected 600,000 doses due in quarter two.
He said: “There has been a reduction in the second shipment of that, but it was low enough anyway to begin with.
“The key with Johnson & Johnson is the 600,000 (doses) over the Q2 period, which gives us well in excess of four million vaccines due over the entirety of the Q2 period.”
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly described the changes to the rollout as “really good news”.
Speaking at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Mr Donnelly said: “What it basically means is that we can deploy all the vaccines we have available to all of the cohort groups that we’re currently looking at and importantly the next cohort which is 50-59 years as well.
“Essentially it means we can keep doing what we’re doing which is keep getting the vaccines out to people as quickly as possible.”
The minister also said pregnant women will be offered the Covid-19 vaccine in the coming weeks.
NIAC has recommended that pregnant women between 14 and 36 weeks’ gestation are offered one of the mRNA vaccines.
“We only got the advice last night so we’ll work with the HSE now this week to put the protocols in place to make that happen,” he said.
Mr Martin also said the Government will make a “comprehensive statement” on plans to reopen society and the economy on Thursday.
It is expected to give a detailed outline for the month of May, as well as outlining targets for June and July.
He added: “What we open, we want to keep open this time. That’s a key underpinning rationale of what we do.
“That’s the real prize for the hospitality sector and the different sectors. That when we eventually take decisions to open a specific sector, or part of a sector, we want that to be for the long haul this time.”
I think we're just going to need to be a little more relaxed about people getting outdoors and enjoying themselves outdoorsTanaiste Leo Varadkar
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the objective is “to avoid there being a fourth wave this side of autumn or winter, and perhaps avoid it altogether”.
He also called on the public to be “less puritanical” about people meeting and socialising outdoors.
He added: “It is much, much safer outdoors than indoors. The chances of contracting the virus outdoors is much less than indoors.
“I think we’re just going to need to be a little more relaxed about people getting outdoors and enjoying themselves outdoors.”
Tuesday saw 10 further deaths related to Covid-19 notified to the Department of Health.
Four of the deaths occurred in April, five in March and one in February.
An additional 426 new cases of the virus were also confirmed.
On Tuesday morning, there were 153 people with the virus in hospital, 47 of whom were in ICU.
Ireland’s 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 of the population now stands at 122.5.
As of Sunday, a total of 1,398,061 doses of Covid vaccines had been administered.
These include 998,134 first doses and 399,927 second doses.