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Professor Luke O’Neill says Ireland should be offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger people

Professor Luke O'Neill

Neasa Cumiskey

Professor Luke O’Neill has said that Ireland should be offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger people.

Both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently limited to people aged over 50 due to the “extremely rare” risk of blood clotting after receiving them.

Last week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin called for the age limit to be reconsidered as the rise of the Delta variant among younger people poses a much higher risk than before.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also noted that “hundreds of thousands” of vaccines will be unused and dumped if the age limit continues.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) will meet today to discuss ending the age restrictions on the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Speaking on The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Trinity College Dublin’s Professor Luke O’Neill said there is “no question” over whether NIAC should reduce the age limit.

“The evidence, as you may remember at the start of this clotting business - remember it was always extremely rare anyway - younger people seemed at a higher risk of it, that was the suggestion – hence they say, give it to the over 60s,” he said.

“That began to become not true because it became clear age was not a predicter for clotting.

“In other words, young people have the same risk of clotting as older people - so it is across the board basically. That immediately means we should be using AstraZeneca across all age groups, there is no question now.

“Of course, we are hoping NIAC will say that and if they don’t, that means there will be doses of AstraZeneca left on the shelf unused which could be used to protect young people – especially now that Delta is here as well of course.

“So, the justification to give AstraZeneca to any age group is extremely strong now based on that and, as I say, that evidence that it was affecting people more, even though it was rare, hasn’t held up anyway.”

Professor O’Neill’s comments comes as new research suggests that a third shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be an effective booster jab in later months.

An Oxford University study found that giving people a third dose more than six months after their second led to a substantial rise in antibodies and enhanced effectiveness in combatting Covid-19 and its variants.

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said that it is not yet known whether people will need a booster shot in autumn, but the new data shows the existing vaccine could be effective.

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