Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced an expansion of the vaccination roll-out programme to younger people.
It will see the 18-34 age group being able to ‘opt in’ for Janssen or AstraZeneca for earlier vaccination.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the minister said this ‘opt-in’ system will run in parallel with the online portal registration, calling it a two-track approach in the vaccine roll-out.
From next Monday, 750 pharmacies can begin administering the Janssen vaccine to people in the 18-34 age groups who have opted in.
From Monday 12 July, that age group can log on to the vaccine portal and choose whether they want the earlier AstraZeneca or Janssen vaccine.
“From Monday 12 July, there will be an online option as well, so when you go to the online portal you now be able to say yes I’m 18-34, I appreciate I will be getting a mRna vaccine in the future, but I actually what I want to do is opt, mainly for AstraZeneca vaccine through the vaccine centre, there will be some Janssen as well, but mainly AstraZeneca through the vaccine centre,” Mr Donnelly said.
“So they can be vaccinated earlier. 18 to 34 can now be vaccinated one to two months earlier which is a huge benefit for them and society in the face of this Delta surge.”
From 9 July, the online vaccine portal for the 30-34 age group opens.
Minister Donnelly said they are “accelerating” the end of the second dose of AstraZeneca for those aged 60-69 and for all other cohorts that have had their first dose of this vaccine.
“So in the next 10 or 11 days everyone who has had the first dose will have had their second dose. We can do this because the NIAC advice has changed to four weeks,” he said.
Yesterday afternoon, the Health Service Executive submitted the revised vaccine plan to Minister Donnelly.
Under the proposed changes, 16- to 49-year-olds should preferably be offered an mRNA vaccine – Pfizer or Moderna.
HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid described the plan as ambitious and said it was hoped to expedite its proposals quickly.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said one in two adults are currently still not adequately protected from Covid-19.
Speaking on the same programme, he said: “We have a new much more transmissible variant, we don’t have enough people fully vaccinated and we have very increased levels of social mixing and all of that if we are not careful could combine for a fourth wave that could see not alone Ireland but whole of western Europe in significant difficulty.”
He said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) was not taken by surprise by the latest modelling figures, but said it is “hard to get your head around the scale of the numbers in some of these scenarios”.
He added that “when you look at the optimistic, the central case scenario you are talking abut 900 cases a day which is not beyond the realms at all when you consider in Scotland yesterday they had 4,000 cases their highest to date in the pandemic.”
Potential danger of Delta variant ‘very, very substantial’
Minister Donnelly later told the Dáil that supplies of Janssen and AstraZeneca will be “somewhat limited during July” but that they should be able to accommodate a “significant number” of the 18 to 34 age group.
He said the estimates, as of this morning, are for 205,000 to 210,000 Janssen vaccine in July, and 100,000 Astra Zeneca doses although “the company is committed to providing more doses than that.”
The minister said the potential danger of the Delta variant is “very, very substantial.”
He said: “We are seeing this huge surge in the UK and now in other European countries. In Scotland they are recording the highest ever case rate since the pandemic began, in spite of having a very large portion of their population vaccinated.
“This Delta variant, in spite of the progress made on vaccinations, is deadly serious,” he said.
The minister said there is some analysis showing the Delta variant is about as severe as the Alpha variant in terms of the likelihood of hospitalisation.
But there is other analysis from the UK, he said, showing it could be two-and-a half times more likely to lead to hospitalisation.
“So obviously accelerating and making the vaccines we have available to younger people in the face of that threat, I believe is very important,” he said.
Without the changes permitted by NIAC, “we were going to be left with supplies of AstraZeneca and Jenssen and we wouldn’t have been able to use them because everyone over 40 would have been vaccinated, so the change from NIAC is incredibly welcome.”
Link between infection and serious illness ‘weakened’
The Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory said if Ireland gets very high case numbers of the Delta variant, there will still be a proportion of people that will be admitted to hospital, ICU, or die.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Dr Cillian de Gascun, who is also a member of NPHET, said the time of year in Ireland will work to the country’s favour, as will the protection of the vulnerable by vaccination.
“I think if people can remember what happened at Christmas, we’re unfortunately back in a similar situation. There are two things in our favour. The time of the year because we can spend a lot more time outdoors and vaccinations.
“But on the flip side, we have a far more transmissible variant that is establishing itself here, and we’re easing restrictions so there’s going to be more socialisation.”
Dr De Gascun said data shows that the first dose of a two-dose Covid-19 vaccine may not be as effective against the Delta variant as it would be against the Alpha variant.
“The level of protection is reported to be in or around 30% after the first dose. But, again the positive message here is the same, public health interventions that people have been practicing for the last 15/16 months are still effective against this virus.
“This virus hasn’t acquired some new superpowers. It still needs to go from person to person, it still requires close contact, face to face interaction,” he said.