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'very advanced' Hopes Covid-19 vaccine may get go-ahead here by end of December

The chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee says planning is at an advanced stage

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Professor Karina Butler, Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

Professor Karina Butler, Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

Colin Keegan

Professor Karina Butler, Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

There are mounting hopes the first Covid-19 vaccine could be administered in Ireland before the end of the month after approval is given by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

According to the chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, a decision will be made by the EMA by December 29 “at the latest” and that health authorities here are “getting very ready” to administer the first jab.

Speaking about the Covid-19 vaccine strategy, Professor Karina Butler said that plans for the roll-out are well advanced.

“They are getting very ready,” she said.

“The freezers are all here. The planning is all done. Dr Brian McCraith’s logistical group (within the Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce) has been working extremely hard on all of that.

“There are huge logistical challenges with the roll-out that people are working really hard to overcome and I am confident they will be. This is a massive undertaking. There will be glitches and its important to note that. We are all humans. It would be great if it went without a hitch but I doubt that will be the case.”

Prof Butler, who in her role with the National Advisory Committee was involved in drawing up the priority list for access to the vaccine, said she had no role in logistics, but that “it could be assumed that the first injections will not be in GPs offices”.

She added: “They may be in hospital or centralised sites, similar to what happened in the North.”

In a move that’s similar to the UK’s, Ireland will prioritise the elderly and vulnerable when deciding who gets the vaccine first.

Those over 65 who are in long-term care will be first to receive the jab, along with frontline healthcare workers with direct patient contact.

These people will then be followed by the over-70s, starting at those 85 and over.

Prof Butler said she was conscious of the fact many people in nursing homes may be reluctant to receive the jabs even after they are given the green light to be administered here.

“I think there is every chance (that people in nursing homes may not take the vaccine),” Prof Butler told the Irish Independent.

“I think the biggest challenge we will face will not be the anti-vaxxers group who are usually against the whole principles of vaccines and who are fixed in their beliefs.

“I think the big challenge is the wider body of people who are very reasonable and want to know is this going to be safe, is it a good thing to do?”

She said it is “very reasonable people would feel that the pace of this has been a bit quicker than anything before”.

“I think our challenge is to be able to get the information to people in a way that they understand, to answer their questions so that they can revaluate their concerns and decide, it’s OK for me, or whatever decision they come to.”

Prof Butler said no vaccine has ever undergone so much scrutiny and that people should take comfort in the fact that the EMA, currently deliberating on vaccine approval, has not rushed its analysis.

“Yes, this has been faster than any vaccine that has been developed so far, but a lot of that speed has not been around safety,” said Prof Butler.

“It has been about doing away with all the normal slowness of the procedures. From the beginning trying to write protocols, to applying for funding, to getting staff, recruiting people. We are talking here about huge trials, 30,000 or 40,000 and the Janssen one is 60,000.

“I have been involved in recruiting for clinical trials (in the past) and it might have taken us two or three years to recruit 200 people. That’s all been concertinaed down. All of that process has speeded up.”

The “ultimate goal” for health experts is to make the vaccine available to as many people as possible.

The length of time it takes to reach an acceptable level of immunity will depend on two things – the vaccine itself and uptake.

Prof Butler said: “Firstly, it will depend on vaccine-related issues, as in whether the vaccine will only protect the person it is given to or whether it will have added benefits in preventing transmission.

“By far the biggest thing that will influence this is the uptake of the vaccine. Unless people put themselves forward, both for themselves and altruistically for the good of the country, well then, we will never get to the levels we need.”

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