Covid-19: Recalibrated vaccine rollout plan to be submitted to Government this week
Delaying second doses of Pfizer vaccine may be a possibility, subject to Niac assessment
Nurse vaccinators Francis Galvin, Joan Love and Mary Hanafin at the HSE Vaccination Centre in the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Alan Betson
A new plan on recalibrating the vaccine rollout in light of a raft of changes governing the availability and distribution of vaccines will be submitted to Government this week.
The document, which was being worked on by agencies involved in the vaccine rollout, including the Health Service Executive, may be submitted as soon as Thursday.
The possibility of delaying second shots of the Pfizer vaccine is to be considered as part of the wider process, but is not part of the plan being submitted on Thursday. The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) will have to assess any changes to the dosing schedule.
Delayed second doses would most likely be limited to those yet to receive their first dose, with those between shots to still receive their second vaccine dose on the originally appointed date.
There were renewed hopes that 545,000 extra doses of Pfizer’s vaccine announced by the European Commission on Wednesday, to be delivered before the end of June, would offset the impact of new restrictions on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The pause in deliveries of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is the subject of regulatory reviews in the United States and by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), could also be alleviated by the extra supplies of Pfizer.
The EMA will next week issue its verdict on blood clotting potentially linked to the J&J vaccine, although there was optimism in Government circles on Wednesday that it would still play a role in the vaccine programme between now and June. Some 600,000 doses of the vaccine are set to be delivered before the end of June.
It is unclear precisely when the extra Pfizer doses are likely to land in the State. Sources said it would likely be Friday before delivery schedules were outlined, after the vaccination steering board of the European Commission meets.
The Government confirmed on Wednesday that it planned to restart vaccinations for those in the medically vulnerable cohorts, using non-AstraZeneca shots like Moderna and Pfizer, which will also be given to the over-70s.
The 60-69 year-old cohort will now be able to book appointments online on a phased basis, and will be given the AstraZeneca vaccine. There was optimism among Cabinet members on Wednesday that the second-quarter target would still be met.
The HSE sought clarity on Wednesday over whether it could in fact give the AstraZeneca vaccine to the under-60s in some circumstances. While the use of the vaccine is currently not recommended for this cohort by Niac, one of the conclusions in the guidance from that body to the Department of Health states it “can be used in adults aged under 60 years where the benefits clearly outweigh the risk for that individual, and the person has made an informed decision based on an understanding of the risks and benefits”.
The Government said it was open to considering giving AstraZeneca to people under 60 who specifically requested it, but a final decision would not be taken until further discussions were held with specialists and the vaccine taskforce.
A Government spokesman said no definite decision had emerged from the discussions but urgent work was ongoing to revise the national vaccination plan in light of the three major developments this week.
“The recalibration of the plan will be sooner rather than later. Work is ongoing. It is in everybody’s interest that it happens sooner rather than later,” he said.
There were also discussions on other aspects of the vaccination programme, including lengthening the time period between the first shot and the second shot, and also on allowing the second shot to be a different product.
The spokesman said there were no decisions reached on those issues but the news about additional supplies of Pfizer meant it was still on target to have 80 per cent of the population vaccinated by the end of June.
The spokesman admitted that until the news from EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday, the situation had looked challenging in terms of reaching its own targets.