The Tánaiste has said the rollout of vaccines to over-70s is likely to be delayed as the State avoids using the AstraZeneca vaccine in older people.
Today, the Health Minister officially authorised the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine here, ahead of an expected first delivery next week.
I have just signed the authorisation for use of the AstraZeneca vaccine by our vaccinators, effective immediately. The first delivery of this vaccine is due next week. Ireland now has three safe and effective vaccines #holdfirm pic.twitter.com/wQToihO7bf
— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) February 4, 2021
Large amounts of the AstraZeneca vaccine are due in Ireland over the coming months - and it's hoped the more easily stored vaccine will help significantly ramp up the vaccination programme here.
However, it has been advised this week that over 70s should get the Pfizer or Moderna jab instead.
It comes amid concerns over the current limited data around how effective the AstraZeneca vaccine is among older people.
Locations where multiple GPs can vaccinate over 70s are now being looked at, as the Pfizer and Moderna jabs are more difficult to store.
The vaccines taskforce met this morning to consider what changes to the vaccination timeline might come on the back of the current situation.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil there will be delays for the over-70s.
He said: "I'm advised that the vaccination of over-85s will begin in the middle of February as planned.
"But because we'll have to use the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine - of which there is less supply - as opposed to the AstraZeneca vaccine, the rollout will be slower.
"I can't give you exact timelines or dates on that at this stage - but it will allow us to speed up the vaccine programme for healthcare workers and high risk people who are under 70."
'Quite significant challenges'
Separately, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said contingency plans are being finalised in the wake of the new advice.
He said: "We're currently working through the operational changes we will have to make to readjust our plan based on this decision.
"There are quite significant challenges we have to mobilise around - but the HSE has been clear and consistent that in the first quarter we always knew it was going to be a bumpy road."
Earlier today, Trinity immunologist Professor Luke O'Neill said clinical data proving the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective in older people could be available by the time the first doses arrive in Ireland.
He suggested the lack of older people in the initial vaccine trial was a 'slight mis-step', so the data isn't there yet to show how efficacious it is among older people.
Over 219,000 people have now received at least one vaccine dose so far, with around 8,000 doses administered each day over the last week.