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just the jab Varadkar turns up heat and calls for Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be made available to under 60s

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Leo Varadkar has urged the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine be given to the under 60s

Leo Varadkar has urged the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine be given to the under 60s

Leo Varadkar has urged the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine be given to the under 60s

TÁNAISTE Leo Varadkar has put pressure on the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to approve the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine for use in people under 60.

Mr Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that he really hopes Niac will make the “pragmatic” and “scientifically sensible” decision to allow the vaccine to be used in younger people.

He said it would be a “big problem” if the single-dose vaccine was only approved for use in over-60s as there are currently more than enough doses to vaccinate this cohort and, he told colleagues, it would mean that the 600,000 vaccines in fridges that can’t be used.

The European Medicines Agency confirmed on Tuesday that the J&J vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks of blood clots, which are a very rare side-effect.

Niac is now considering the EMA advice and will make a recommendation to the Government in the coming days. It previously recommended that AstraZeneca, which also carries rare risks of clotting events, be limited to use in the over-60s.

The Fine Gael leader also told colleagues that the Dáil should debate the use of EU’s ‘Digital Green Certificates’ or so-called vaccine passports, which are expected to be approved at an EU level in the coming weeks.

Mr Varadkar said that he could see them being used for international travel, but not for domestic outlets like hairdressers or shops which he hopes will be open for everybody.

Mr Varadkar told his party there may be an argument for using the green certs for mass indoor gatherings in Ireland as the country opens up, but that this should be debated and discussed.

Clare TD Joe Carey, Senator Jerry Buttimer and MEP Deirdre Clune called for the Government to embrace the certificates.

Ms Clune told the meeting the Government needed to be ready for the demand created by countries like Greece and Portugal accepting holidaymakers who are fully vaccinated once the EU-wide system is put in place this summer.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told the meeting that under the green cert system people will have a barcode on their phone that will show whether they have been vaccinated, have had a negative test or have recovered from Covid.

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A patient receives his Covid-19 vaccination shot

A patient receives his Covid-19 vaccination shot

A patient receives his Covid-19 vaccination shot

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He said it would be ready by June and it will be up to EU countries to decide how early they want to use it. He said it was unlikely to be used in June but beyond that it could be used to ease restrictions on international travel.

However, former agriculture minister Michael Creed said he had reservations about vaccine certs being used within Ireland and discriminating against certain people.

The meeting heard complaints from Senator Martin Conway and Mr Carey who separately highlighted cases of constituents who are over or nearly 100 years’ old and have not been vaccinated.

Mr Varadkar told TDs and Senators there will be a phased reopening of retail, phased opening of personal services, the full return of construction and more outdoor activities over a four-to-five week period in May.

He indicated that indoor religious ceremonies with limited numbers would also be allowed to begin in May, saying it was safer as a lot of the church-going population is older and have been vaccinated.

Former rural affairs minister Michael Ring criticised Health Minister Stephen Donnelly who he said was causing the government problems with his public comments. Mr Ring cited the Minister’s suggestion last weekend that under 30s could be prioritised for vaccinations – a proposal that was swiftly dropped.

Mr Varadkar referred to Mr Donnelly’s proposal as “kite-flying” which he had woken up to on Saturday morning. He said he was pleased the Taoiseach had dealt with it and said changing the vaccine prioritisation schedule again would have “upended things”.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary party passed a motion calling on Tourism Minister Catherine Martin to expand the Outdoor Dining Enhancement Scheme to include so-called wet pubs.

Mr Varadkar said he would raise the exclusion of wet pubs from the scheme with Ms Martin, adding he hoped it was not too late to change it. He also told colleagues there would need to be a special package for the hospitality sector when it reopens.

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