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summer downer Lockdown exit blow as ‘no vaccine for under-60s until June’

Uncertainties over supply and blood clotting fears leads to revised plan

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Paul Reid

Paul Reid

Paul Reid

Much of the adult population aged under 60 face waiting until June before getting a Covid-19 vaccine.

June is likely to be the busiest month for vaccinations, amid uncertainty over arrival of supplies and the question mark hanging over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It is under review after a very small number of blood clots.

The HSE is working towards meeting the target of having 82pc of the population with at least one dose by the end of June, but there remain serious unknown factors at play.

It revised its vaccination plan after AstraZeneca was confined to the over-60s.

Then the Johnson & Johnson vaccine roll-out was paused in Europe while the European Medicines Agency (EMA) carries out an examination of blood clotting events.

HSE director Paul Reid yesterday acknowledged that much of the deliveries would be arriving in June.

“We always envisaged June for the below-60 age group. That may change but we need to clarify the Pfizer vaccine supply and any change to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply that might come ­forward,” he said.

The online portal opened to people aged 69 to apply for a vaccine yesterday and by 6pm yesterday evening more than 27,000 had registered either online or by calling the HSE phoneline.

The expectation is that around 420,000 people in their 60s will have received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine by mid to late May with a second dose 12 weeks later.

Meanwhile, Ireland is due more than 600,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is given in one shot, before the end of June.

The first 40,000 are already here, but cannot be used because the company paused its roll-out until the EMA ­decision next Thursday.

Asked what impact the disruption to the vaccine roll-out would have on plans to ease lockdown, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the news that Pfizer was giving another 545,000 vaccines this quarter would leave us in a “good position”.

If Johnson & Johnson vaccines cannot be used, he insisted it would not be a major setback.

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However, we need as many approved safe vaccines as we can get.

“In broad terms we are still on track for where we hope to be by the end of June, and with the positive direction of the disease I would hope we will continue along the track we were hoping to go on in terms of easing the measures,” he said.

Johnson & Johnson had been described as a ‘game-changer’ in the roll-out because it is a one-dose vaccine, but the EMA decision next week will be crucial.

Mr Reid acknowledged the main uncertainties hanging over the roll-out plan include the decision around the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

He also does not know how soon the additional doses of Pfizer vaccine will arrive.

It is also unclear whether a decision will be made around extending the gap of 28 days between the first and second doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Dr Glynn said last night there were pros and cons to this and it was still being looked at.

Professor Philip Nolan, of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), said there would need to be a “significant shock” to the vaccination programme to have a significant knock-on impact on how things can open up.

Meanwhile, the HSE has a backlog of between 40,000 to 50,000 people with underlying illnesses who lost out on vaccines this week following the AstraZeneca decision.

The people in the very high risk or high-risk categories who are under 60 will need to be given a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

These people will now have their appointments rescheduled.

It also emerged that some people at high risk of Covid-19 due to underlying illness will not be fully vaccinated with two doses until early July.

A number of people at very high risk because of an existing condition will not have the full two doses until early June.

The changes are outlined in a letter to GPs who are to play a bigger role in the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines under the HSE’s revamped plan.

They will have responsibility for some of these two groups aged 18 to 59.

In a letter, the Irish Medical Organisation said Pfizer would be the vaccine used in general practice for those doctors who chose to be involved in giving vaccines to cohort 4, people with underlying conditions at very high risk, and cohort 7, people at high risk.

GPs who participate in this programme will be catering for people aged 18 to 59 who are at very high or high risk, who number around 400,000.

Around 1,200 GP practices have signed up to do the work so far.

It is intended GPs will receive deliveries for very high and high risk patients from this month to early July.

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