Ireland should be trying to buy excess vaccine from the UK in order to speed up reopening, according to Dr Gabriel Scally.
The UK has now administered at least one vaccine dose to more than one quarter of its population and yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to remove all social restrictions by June.
In Ireland meanwhile, the Government is expected to announce a far more cautious reopening plan this evening - with the vast majority of the restrictions remaining in place.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Dr Scally, the former Director of Public Health for Belfast and Professor of Public Health at University of Bristol said it is time to open talks on purchasing vaccine from the UK.
“Personally, what I would do if I was the Taoiseach is I would be saying, ‘look we have a shared territory on this island between the UK and the Republic and the UK has purchased 407 million doses of vaccine - which is enough to vaccinate the whole adult population four times with two vaccines’” he said.
“So, I would have a discussion about getting hold of some vaccine from the UK and it could make an enormous difference.”
Dr Scally said Ireland should now reverse its decision not to offer the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over the age of 70.
“I was never in favour of that decision,” he said. “The fact that they didn’t include over-65s in the trial certainly meant there was an evidence gap there but there was no reason to suspect that it would not be effective and that is the position that the UK took.”
He said evidence from Scotland is now showing that the first doses have led to a major reduction in hospitalisations across all age groups.
“The evidence is really about serious cases and hospital admissions, which is at the top end of the spectrum so if it prevents that that is a really good thing,” he said.
He also called on health officials to follow the UK's single dose vaccine strategy – which involves delaying the second dose to get as many first doses done as possible.
“I think both vaccines certainly seem to be effective across the age groups and certainly, I think the decision just to do single doses in the UK was absolutely the right decision and they are already seeing a really substantial drop in new cases,” he said.
“There are still an awful lot of infections; an awful lot of people in hospital but I think the evidence shows it is having an effect.
“Both vaccines are good and both should be used in a single dose in order to extend the opportunity to as many people as possible to have at least one dose as soon as they can.”
The Scotland study, published in the British Medical Journal yesterday, found that four weeks after the first doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines were administered to patients, the risk of hospitalisation fell by 94% and 85% respectively.
You can listen back to Dr Scally here: