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covid concern Questions remain about Johnson & Johnson jab as roll-out gathers pace

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Dr. Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer, HSE

Dr. Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer, HSE

Dr. Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer, HSE

The roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines is gathering pace, with up to 280,000 doses to be administered next week.

However, there are question marks over how much of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be offered to people in their 40s, who are registering in big numbers.

HSE chief Paul Reid said yesterday the roll-out is going well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated that the current vaccines appear to protect against all variants that are circulating and causing concern.

The WHO is urging caution on foreign travel despite the EU yesterday reaching a deal on Covid-19 certs aimed at boosting tourism.

The number of cases here to date of the Indian variant – which can spread faster and is causing concern in parts of the UK – rose to 59 yesterday, up 18 since last Friday.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the aim is to slow its spread here while rolling out the vaccine as fast as possible.

“More people are being vaccinated. We are down to age groups quicker than we planned because of the supplies of other vaccines,” Mr Reid said.

Johnson & Johnson vaccines are now being distributed to vaccination centres and will be offered to people over 50.

Recent advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) stated that these vaccines could be offered to people in their 40s but that individuals would need to give their consent after being told of a very low risk of blood clots.

The HSE is now unsure about the level of deliveries of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, so given its limited supply so far, people aged 45 to 49 who are currently registering for a jab will be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for now.

Around 100,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines are due to arrive into Ireland in June and, because of the convenience of just one dose, they will be offered to traditionally difficult-to-reach groups such as homeless people and Travellers.

They will also be sent to vaccination centres for the over-50 age group.

The HSE said it will shortly open the portal to invite people aged 40-44 to apply to receive their vaccine.

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So far, around 40pc of the population has been fully vaccinated.

It comes as 469 new cases of the virus were reported yesterday. The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital is at 103 and there are 38 patients with the virus in intensive care, which has remained stable.

The WHO says Covid-19 vaccines in Europe appear to protect against all new variants, but warned that progress in other regions remains “fragile” and international travel should be avoided to prevent pockets of transmission quickly spreading into “dangerous resurgences”.

Weekly official cases in Europe have fallen by almost 60pc, from 1.7m in mid-April to nearly 685,000 last week, with deaths also in decline.

WHO regional director Hans Kluge said the incidence rates remained stubbornly high in eight countries.

“The pandemic is not over yet,” he said.

“Increased mobility and interactions may lead to more transmission. In the face of a continued threat and new uncertainty we need to exercise caution and rethink or avoid international travel.”

Mr Kluge added that European leaders should “not make the same mistakes that were made this time last year that resulted in a resurgence of Covid-19 and saw health systems, communities and economies once again bear the full force of the pandemic”.

The Indian variant has been detected in 26 European counties with most cases linked to international travel. However, it is now being passed on within countries.

“We are still learning about the new variant, but it is able to spread rapidly and displace the B.1.1.7 lineage, first identified in the UK, that has now become the dominant lineage in Europe,” Mr Kluge said.

Vaccines are effective, but only 23pc of people in Europe have received a dose.

It comes as the EU yesterday reached a deal on Covid-19 certificates aimed at opening up tourism this summer.

The Government here is facing a major test on the obstacle of foreign travel and will face crunch decisions in July and August amid pressure from the airline industry.

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