Republic of Ireland news

Republic's health bosses ‘expect and hope' Johnson & Johnson jab to be available soon

 The single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine 
James Ward, PA

Health bosses have said they “expect and hope” that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will become available during quarter two.

Use of the vaccine was paused by its manufacturer this week amid concerns from US regulators over rare cases of blood clotting.

The Republic of Ireland was due to receive more than 600,000 doses of the single-shot vaccine between April and June, meaning plans for the vaccine rollout had to be quickly redrawn.

While these problems were offset by news of an additional 545,000 doses of the Pfizer jab, health bosses are still hopeful the J&J inoculation will be approved for use by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) next week.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said: “All we know right now is that it has been withdrawn for now, paused, and we can build based on that.

“What we would expect, and we will certainly hope that the Johnson and Johnson does come back within the quarter, with whatever definitions are defined by the EMA or NIAC (National Immunisation Advisory Committee) or the organisation themselves.”

However, the HSE’s latest modelling is based on the J&J vaccine not being made available this quarter.

Mr Reid told a briefing today that there are three variables that will determine the modelling for how many people can be vaccinated over the next three months.

These are the length of the delay on the J&J vaccine, the delivery schedule for the additional 545,000 Pfizer jabs and the possibility of extending the gap between first and second vaccine doses.

Mr Reid said the vaccine rollout had been changed up to 25 times already due to various issues, and is likely to change again.

He said there has already been “huge benefits” delivered by the vaccine programme.

“It’s reducing our hospitalisations, our sickness and our mortality” he added.

Today, the HSE launched a new online portal where people can register for their vaccines. It is currently open to people aged between 65 and 69.

Mr Reid said there had been 18,000 registrations completed by lunchtime, of which 95% were done through the portal.

Earlier, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the Republic of Ireland is on course to lift more coronavirus restrictions from May 4.

The Tanaiste also said that 80% of the population will have had their first dose of Covid vaccine, or have been offered it, by the end of June.

He said the government will sit down at the end of April to develop a reopening plan for the months of May, June and July.

The government is planning for more outdoor activities, a phased reopening of retail and the return of personal services such as hairdressers on a staggered basis next month.

He said: “For the first time this year, the number of people in hospitals is below 200 and the number in ICU below 50.

“Cases are stable or falling, the R number is below one. Kids are back to school, the five kilometre rule is gone, we’re building houses again.

“We are on track, we’re on track both to ease restrictions as planned from May 4, and to have over 80% of people receiving their first vaccine by the end of June.”

Asked if he is sure about the June vaccination target given the issues with the rollout to date, Mr Varadkar replied: “They’ll have it in their arm or they’ll certainly have been offered it at that stage. It’s as solid as it can be.”

Mr Varadkar told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the situation is “looking good”, but that things can still go wrong.

He said reopening will depend on four key indicators: “vaccines, variants, case numbers and the state of our hospitals”.

He said: “What we’ll do in about two weeks’ time at the end of April, is we’ll sit down and develop the plan for May.

“What we’re planning is allowing more outdoor activities, a phased reopening of retail and personal services.

“Over the course of the month of May there will be a phased reopening of personal services including hairdressers and barbers.

“What we’ll also do at the end of April, that’s not far away now, we’ll develop the plan for June and July.”

Mr Varadkar also said that people will not be allowed to choose which vaccine they receive.

It comes after a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee that the AstraZeneca vaccine is only given to people over the age of 60.

Mr Varadkar said the advice should not undermine confidence in the safety of the vaccine.

He said: “The best option is the vaccine that’s offered to you. All the vaccines are effective and they’re safe for the age groups they’re indicated for.”

He said if a person refuses to have the AstraZeneca jab, they will have to “wait until the end” of the rollout to be given a vaccine.

“It’s not possible to know when the end would be, but it wouldn’t be June or July, it would be later than that” he added.

The Government has said it is examining extending the intervals between the two doses of AstraZeneca to speed up the vaccine programme, as has been done in the UK.

Studies have shown people are still given high levels of immunity, over 80%, from a single dose.

But Mr Varadkar said today that people who have already received their first dose will still get their second as planned.

“We’re not going to change it for them,” he said. “They’ve even been given the date at this stage, and they’re also the people who are generally the highest risk, so it makes sense to fully protect them.”

He said that if longer intervals between doses are introduced, it will only be for younger people who do not have any medical vulnerabilities.

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