It is “entirely possible” that the age limits on the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines will be dropped further later in the year, according to the Health Minister.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) yesterday recommended both vaccines for use in the over-50s.
AstraZeneca had previously been limited to the over-60s and there were concerns the same limit would be placed on Johnson & Johnson (J&J).
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that advice has changed because ‘more and more information is becoming available’ – and noted that further age limit changes are “entirely possible.”
“Really what this is, is the result of a vaccine programme where we are dealing with a novel virus and this is the first round of vaccinations,” he said
“For example, the flu vaccine has changed every year to account for variation in the virus every year but we are used to it and we know an awful lot about it.
“We learning in terms of the effectiveness of these vaccines as they are rolled out around the world and what we are finding – the information coming in and the latest information available to NIAC for example – is that they are very, very safe for those over 50.
“It is entirely possible they will come back as there is more information available saying, ‘by the way the same applies to the over-40s, the over-30s etc.’”
Minister Donnelly said the updated advice means the vaccine programme is now, “full steam ahead” – but stopped short of guaranteeing the Government would now hit its long-held target of offering a first dose to 80% of the population by the end of June.
“I think people have been focusing very hard on this single date,” he said. “The vaccine programme is not about a race to June 31st [sic].
“It just so happens that, based on the supplies as they are coming in, if they continue to come in as agreed with the pharmaceutical companies, then four in every five adults who wants a vaccine can be offered a vaccine by the end of June – but there is no magic about June 31st [sic].
“On July 1st we will still be vaccinating, we will be doing tens of thousands of people.
“The good news yesterday in terms of Jansen (J&J) and AstraZeneca is that we are still on track and it means that we can keep getting the vaccines out at the speed they come into the country.”
The Health Minister still hopes to offer 80% of people their first vaccine dose by the end of June - but insists, ‘there's no magic about June 31st.’@DonnellyStephen on @NTBreakfast pic.twitter.com/JePZGtzAbp
— NewstalkFM (@NewstalkFM) April 28, 2021
The minister also said people in their 30s and 40s can expect to be vaccinated later in the summer.
“If you were to estimate – again these things change on weekly basis – but if you were in your 40s like I am, I would be expecting to be vaccinated sometime in June,” he said.
The Government is due to announce its latest plan for reopening the economy on Thursday – with the restrictions that are likely to ease in May well flagged in advance: With non-essential retail, personal services like barbers, hairdressers and beauticians; Museums, galleries, libraries and religious services all likely to return.
The plan for June and July is less clear – with growing calls for pubs and restaurants to reopen in some form in June, alongside hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses.
Minister Donnelly said the country is in a better place ahead of the announcement than the “best-case scenario we were presented with by NPHET four or five weeks ago.”
“We all want to see the quickest opening up possible to get out of this because it is so hard for everybody to go through this but we have got to be smart about it,” he said.
“So, making sure we are doing our testing and tracing and genome sequencing and rapid testing and all of those good things and sticking with the basic measures.
“But also, we don’t want to have to go back in – and I would imagine most people listening this morning are saying, ‘look we all want to get out of this but let’s do it in a way that is sustainable.’
“That keeps the curve flat and gives this vaccine programme the space it needs.”
You can listen back here: