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expired HSE have thrown out half-a-million Covid vaccines since Christmas

It's expected tens of thousands more vaccines are set to go out of date in the coming weeks

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More than 500,000 Covid-19 vaccines expired between Christmas and the end of January, with health officials expecting tens of thousands more to go out of date this month.

The HSE said its vaccination sites, including GPs, pharmacies and mass vaccination centres, ordered high volumes of vaccines as part of the accelerated booster programme in the run-up to Christmas in a bid to mitigate the Omicron wave.

However, the high volumes of vaccines ordered coincided with record high case numbers, which left hundreds of thousands of people ineligible for a booster dose. Anyone who has had Covid-19 since they were vaccinated has to wait at least three months after a positive test result to avail of a booster dose.

The HSE privately estimates that more than 500,000 people are currently ineligible for the booster dose as they had the Omicron strain over Christmas and New Year, and must now wait until March.

There has also been a lower uptake among younger age cohorts because Omicron has proven to be a less severe strain of the virus. The Cabinet was told last month that demand for booster vaccines had dropped among younger age groups, with between 40pc and 66pc uptake of the booster among those aged 18 to 49.

The most recent report from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre shows that just over 71pc of over-18s have had their booster or immunocompromised dose.

Health officials believe the issue of vaccines expiring will remain through February, but will probably not be as acute as has been the case last month. A source said the numbers of vaccines expiring this month could be in the tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands. “It’ll be a much lower number,” they said.

Part of the issue is that Ireland has entered into advanced purchase agreements through the EU with vaccine manufacturers. “We’ve indicative numbers of delivery as a country, but we don’t have full sight of the actual delivery numbers,” the source added.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced last month that Ireland had increased its vaccine donation commitments to Covax, the international coalition set up to provide fair and equitable access to Covid vaccines to every country in the world, by up to a further three million vaccine doses, having made an earlier donation of two million doses.

In a statement, the HSE said: “As we reported last week, about 400,000 vaccines have expired since Christmas, however that is likely to be over 500,000 doses following a final compilation of figures up to the end of January.

“Our vaccination sites ordered high volumes of vaccines as part of the accelerated vaccine programme; this coincided with the sheer scale of the increase of Covid cases, which meant people could not come forward to avail of vaccine supplies.

“However our primary objective remains that same: we want as many people as possible to avail of the booster vaccine to minimise the health risks associated with Covid-19 and it is important to ensure adequate supply is available.

“The process for all vaccines provided through the HSE National Immunisation Programmes is that expired vaccines are collected by the National Cold Chain Service for destruction.”

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