Covid-19: Up to 700,000 to be vaccinated by end of March – Donnelly

Front-line health workers, care home staff and residents, and older people prioritised

Minister for Health Simon Donnelly. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Simon Donnelly. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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Up to 700,000 people in the State should be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of March if, as expected, the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab is approved by the European medicines regulator, the Minister for Health has said.

Stephen Donnelly said that if the approval and delivery schedules for the vaccine proceeded as planned, and supplies of two others continued to arrive, the first three cohorts in the State’s vaccination plan should be immunised by the end of the first quarter of the year.

“We are planning on 1.4 million doses in total” by the end of the quarter, he said, 600,000 of which would be the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

This would enable front-line healthcare workers, residents and staff in long-term residential facilities, and half a million older people to be immunised.

“We are also putting in place plans such that if any of those volumes increase, we can scale accordingly.”

Irish Covid cases growth

Quarterly estimates produced by the vaccine task force and distributed to party leaders last week in fact show higher volumes, but these are broad estimates based on advance purchase agreements struck with the companies, rather than any specific delivery timetable.

According to the document, some 1.7 million doses may be available in the first quarter, building to 3.9 million in the second quarter, and 4.4 million in the third.

Vaccination staff

Róisín Shortall, joint leader of the Social Democrats, called for clarity about there being enough vaccinators to administer the programme.

“It’s not a problem at the moment, but when we get to the point where there are significant quantities, I can’t see where the big numbers of staff will come from to do that,” she said.

Her call came as the HSE and Department of Health continued negotiations with groups representing family doctors and pharmacists over their role in the vaccination programme.

If Oxford-AstraZeneca’s jab is approved, it broadens the possibility for these groups to become involved, as it does not require ultra-cold storage, as the Pfizer-BionNtech and Moderna shots do.

The Irish Pharmacy Union told its members on Monday that they are “likely” to be involved in the rollout of the programme once the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab is approved.

In an update to members, the union also said it was insisting that pharmacists “be prioritised for early vaccination” and suggested that they could be vaccinated by the end of next month.

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