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threat looms Record 600,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine jabs on way to fight Delta wave threat

Professor says next few weeks will gain momentum, writes Catherine Fegan


Masked concert-goers at Ireland's first live gig since the Covid-19 pandemic at the Iveagh Gardens, Dublin. Vaccinations will begin in younger people in the next few weeks. Photo: Mark Condren

Masked concert-goers at Ireland's first live gig since the Covid-19 pandemic at the Iveagh Gardens, Dublin. Vaccinations will begin in younger people in the next few weeks. Photo: Mark Condren

Professor Brian MacCraith

Professor Brian MacCraith


Masked concert-goers at Ireland's first live gig since the Covid-19 pandemic at the Iveagh Gardens, Dublin. Vaccinations will begin in younger people in the next few weeks. Photo: Mark Condren

The vaccination programme will reach its peak over the next two weeks as the State receives over 600,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine – the biggest delivery to date, as the threat of the Delta variant looms.

According to Professor Brian MacCraith, head of the Vaccine Taskforce, the next few weeks will see the programme gain a “very significant momentum” as the wait time for the second dose of AstraZeneca is reduced and vaccinations begin in younger cohorts.

“The next few weeks will really represent the peak in the programme,” Prof MacCraith told the Irish Independent.

“Over 450,000 individuals who are on AstraZeneca will get dose two in the next five weeks and that will continue into the middle of July. A process that would have gone out to the middle of August has been pulled back into the middle of July. It will be close to 100,000 doses a week just for dose two AstraZeneca alone. It’s a very big effort, really driven by the Delta variant and by the motivation to protect people.”

The taskforce is working on a timeline to bring the vaccine to the younger cohorts in their 20s but is not yet prepared to put a target date in place.

In conjunction with the accelerated roll-out of AstraZeneca dose two, the State will receive the two largest deliveries of Pfizer to date. This includes a delivery of 317,000 doses on Wednesday, followed by a further 318,000 doses the week beginning June 28.

“They will be the two biggest deliveries in the programme overall and that includes going forward,” said Prof MacCraith.

“The vaccine programme will peak in the number of few weeks because of that.”

Almost a third of the population are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Around 61pc of people in Ireland have had their first vaccine dose and 31pcare fully vaccinated. More than 3.4 million jabs have been administered to date, including over 2.3 million first doses and 1.2 million second doses. There is about 100pc take-up among people over 80, 97pc among the over-70s, 92pc among people aged 60 to 69, and 87pc among those aged 50 to 59.

“We will be scaling up significantly,” said Prof MacCraith.

“It’s a big effort to get almost half a million doses of AstraZeneca out in the next five weeks on top of maintaining the momentum with Jansen in the pharmacies, and Moderna and Pfizer, and through the vaccination centres. The vaccination centres will hit peak in the coming weeks as well in terms of their efforts. Through the GPs, pharmacists, and the vaccination centres we are entering the peak of the programme in the coming weeks.”

From early July, Pfizer supplies will revert back to what was contractually agreed with the pharmaceutical giant – around 180,000 doses a week. Prof MacCraith said this did not represent a slowdown of the roll-out, pointing to the fact that the front loading of supplies in more recent months had increased vaccination numbers.

The Government had previously set a target of 450,000 doses a week by mid-June, contingent on supply.

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“We have always operated on the basis that the only limitation to the roll-out would be supplies,” said Prof MacCraith.

“Over the recent months, we've been benefiting from an acceleration of Pfizer doses that were intended for quarter three and four. Instead, they were accelerated forward into quarter two.”

People aged between 35 and 39 will be able to register for their vaccines from tomorrow.

There are about 710,000 people in the 30 to 39 age cohort, including about 380,000 aged 35 to 39 and roughly 310,000 aged 30 to 34. A HSE briefing on Thursday heard it will take about three to four weeks to complete the 35 to 39 age cohort.

Prof MacCraith declined to comment on when those in their twenties would receive a vaccine.

Due to the age-restriction with the use of AstraZeneca, the administration of the vaccine here will come to an end in Mid-July. Pfizer, described as the “dominant” vaccine in the roll-out by Prof MacCraith, recently finalised a deal with the EU to receive 1.8 billion doses of the its vaccine from this year until 2023. The extra doses will be used to cover the vaccination of younger groups and booster shots to cover new variants.

“Boosters are a relevant topic at the moment as we move through the completion of the first round of this programme.

“Those sort of issues would be policy decisions. The Chief Medical Officer and NIAC are likely to be considering those issues.

“Ireland is involved in the 1.8 billion additional does of Pfizer that were announced a few weeks ago, so of course they're in the context of either boosters or an annual vaccination programme.”

Meanwhile, Ireland's medicines watchdog received seven reports of suspected blood clots in combination with low platelets in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine by June 9.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) said symptoms occurred approximately one to three weeks from vaccination with the first dose of the vaccine.

The types of symptoms reported include shortness of breath, severe and/or persistent headache, unusual skin bruising, abdominal pain, leg pain and leg swelling.

Cases occurred in both males and females ranging in age from 29 to 63. In a small number, blood clots occurred in unusual locations, including in the brain and liver. No deaths have occurred.

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