Health Minister confident vaccine programme still on track

AstraZeneca supplies to slump by 60 per cent by March

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he is confident the Government Vaccine Allocation Strategy programme can continue as planned, despite recent reports that supplies of the AstraZeneca drug over the coming months will be limited.

The British-Swedish pharmaceutical company announced last week it was going to reduce the number of doses it would deliver to the European Union by end of March from an agreed 80 million to 31 million.

This meant that Ireland’s allocation of the vaccine, which is expected to receive European Medicines Agency approval on January 29, would be 60 per cent lower than expected.

But Minister Donnelly has confirmed that the vaccination of the third group in the allocation strategy would begin in February, subject to regulatory approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Under the plan, people aged 70 and older will be vaccinated in the following order: 85 and older, 80-84, 75-79, 70-74.

“Despite anticipated disruption to deliveries, which was announced on Friday 22 January, Ireland will receive a delivery of AstraZeneca vaccine within the expected range for February, although at the lower end of that range,” Minister Donnelly said.

“Delivery in March is likely to be more impacted and considerably lower than what was originally stated by the company. We continue to prioritise those most vulnerable to Covid-19 in our society against the backdrop of limited supply of vaccines.”

Minister Donnelly also advised that the next stage of the vaccine programme would be administered initially through GPs in their surgeries.

The HSE, he said, was preparing a public information campaign that would “ensure that everyone knows when, where and how to access their vaccine”.

“For the moment, people do not need to take any specific action,” he said.

“In the meantime, completing vaccinations for those most vulnerable to Covid-19 infection remains the priority. Every possible nursing home resident has already received one dose and some have received second doses.”

Healthcare workers were also a priority, Minister Donnelly added.

“Second doses will be administered over the coming weeks to 77,000 healthcare workers. We will continue to rollout first and second doses to our remaining frontline healthcare workers during February.”

He also sought to reassure nursing home residents and staff who had missed out on the vaccination because of a Covid-19 outbreak at a number of care facilities, saying they will be prioritised and vaccinated as soon as possible in line with the guidelines drawn up by our National Immunisation Advisory Council.

As of January 24, the Health Service Executive (HSE) has administered 143,000 vaccine doses.

“I would like to thank the Health Service Executive, members of the High-Level Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination, and their teams, for the effort and commitment they are putting into the efficient roll out of the vaccine programme,” Minister Donnelly said.

“As we have seen in recent days, in these early stages things can change quickly and we have to build delivery around supply.  Everyone involved understands the importance of this programme to the country. Everything that can be done is being done, and will be done, to deliver it.”

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