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Indian variant fears AstraZeneca vaccine roll-out to be speeded up for the second dose

Gap between jabs to be reduced

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Prof Sam McConkey

Prof Sam McConkey

Prof Sam McConkey

Around 400,000 people who received a first dose of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will get a second jab earlier to protect them from a more infectious variant.

The reduction in the gap between doses from twelve to eight weeks to fend off the faster spreading Indian variant – now known as Delta – is having to be eased in as the HSE only has confirmation of AstraZeneca supplies for the next two weeks.

The switch needs to be phased in because of uncertainties over supplies.

It comes as daily cases of the virus rose to 529 yesterday, although the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital stood at 86 while the sickest in intensive care fell to 28.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “This will be phased in – the coming fortnight will see those who are due their vaccine as part of a 12-week schedule receive their second dose of vaccine.

“We will then implement a graduated reduction so the interval will reduce to 11, 10, nine and then eight weeks.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has spoken to AstraZeneca chiefs in Ireland about the need for urgency around supplies of the vaccine following the recommendation by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to reduce the gap between doses to eight weeks because of evidence one jab offers reduced protection against the Delta virus.

Niac also recommended that people under 50 who are healthy and had the virus in the nine months before getting the first AstraZeneca jab should not need a second jab.

This would mainly impact health workers.

A spokesman for the HSE said this is a variation on the previous recommendation allowing people who had a confirmed case of the virus in the previous six months to decline a second jab.

He said the HSE is “assessing the impact of this change.”

It is expected anyone who wants a second vaccine can avail of it.

Meanwhile, the country looks forward to outdoor service at restaurants and pubs from Monday as well as the reopening of gyms.

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Asked to comment on yesterday’s high number of cases, infectious disease consultant Prof Sam McConkey of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin said we have learned not to put too much emphasis on one day’s figures.

“We would need two weeks’ data. I don’t trust any trend that is not over 14 days of data because there are too many random changes.”

He said he was looking forward to sitting down outdoors with people he lives with in a spaced out environment.

“But we cannot go wild with the indoor parties. We really need to advise people to avoid indoor socialising.”

He is very concerned about the Delta variant which has led to a big rise in cases in the UK.

It means the proposal to reopen foreign travel from the middle of July is more indicative than definitive, he added.

“I am cautiously optimistic about where we are at present as long as we can keep the Delta variant out. We need to do that otherwise we could be in trouble,” he said. “It may not attack the elderly who are vaccinated but it would affect younger people who are unvaccinated as yet. My view is to not open up too much foreign travel.

“Open up domestically as we are doing but keep the travel down to essential travel. Keep hotel quarantine.”

“If we can get everyone over 12 vaccinated then we can open up international travel much more,” he added. “That is why we need to avoid travel in and out of England for the next few weeks at least.”

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