Covid-19 vaccinations to begin on Tuesday, a day earlier than planned, HSE says

Professor Sam McConkey ‘very confident’ in safety of Pfizer vaccine and urges public trust

The HSE takes delivery of the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on December 26th, 2020. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images.

The HSE takes delivery of the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on December 26th, 2020. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images.

 

The Irish vaccination programme and rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine will begin on Tuesday, December 29th, HSE chief executive Paul Reid has said.

Mr Reid told RTÉ’s This Week programme that he expected the first vaccinations to take place on Tuesday, one day earlier than was previously anticipated. Mr Reid was speaking after the first shipment of 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Ireland on Saturday.

Asked why Ireland was not rolling out the programme straight away like other European nations, Mr Reid said the HSE’s top priority was to begin vaccinating people in a safe and effective way.

“We want to build confidence very early and immediately with our own vaccine roll-out process. We will start in four hospital locations with some very elderly residents.”

He said the initial three weeks would focus on a full vaccination “sweep” of nursing homes followed by another three week period where nursing home residents would receive their second Pfizer jab. This first group to receive the vaccine are “very vulnerable” and the consent process is “quite complex”, he said.

Some 180 people have been trained to carry out vaccinations in the community while a further 1,500 vaccinators are to become available in the acute hospital system, said Mr Reid. The HSE will then roll out its vaccination programme to GPs and pharmacies, he added.

Another 30,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are due for delivery next week with 40,000 doses due each week through January and into February, said Mr Reid, adding that the State was “in dialogue” with Moderna regarding its delivery schedule and roll out.

‘We’ll catch up’

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he is unsure why Covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out in Ireland at a slower rate than in other countries but insists that the State “will catch up”.

“I don’t see it as a race. I think it’s important we do it right,” he told Newstalk’s On The Record programme on Sunday when asked about the delay.

Asked why the vaccine which arrived in Ireland on St Sephen’s Day would not be administered distributed until December 30th, he said: “I’m not 100 per cent sure” but that it “takes a couple of days to organise things”.

“While you could have done a few people in the initial days, the authorities thought it was better to start on Wednesday, start it properly,” he said.

“We’ve 10,000 doses. We’ll have roughly 40,000 doses arriving every week from January,” he said, adding that “people living in long term care facilities, nursing homes and also staff who are working there” would be the first to be innoculated.

“I think we’ll start a little bit slower, but catch up. We’re part of the European system. We get 1.11 per cent of the vaccine and that’s proportional to our population. I think we will start a bit slower than other countries.”

Mr Varadkar said he anticipated that the Moderna vaccine will be approved for use on January 6th.

“That’s not part of the current schedule you see in the paper’s today and there seems to be a good chance that the AstraZenaca one will be approved by the end of January and that’s particularly important because we ordered a huge number of them, more so than we did from Pfizer.”

He said the vaccination scheme “will be accelerated as those other vaccines come online”.

Hope

Professor Sam McConkey, infectious diseases consultant, said on Sunday that he was “very confident” in the safety of the Pfizer vaccine and underlined that the public should not worry about the safety of the vaccine.

“I think we can very, very confidently say this is a safe product,” he told RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor show. “It’s clear that the Pfizer vaccine prevents mild and moderate illness in young healthy people. Now of course, mild and modern illness is not what we’re worried about, it’s death in the 90-year-olds. How sure are we that it will be 90 per cent effective at preventing death in 90-year-olds? We don’t quite know that yet, but it seems like it will prevent mild and moderate illness and probably some death.

“There’s a time you have to move ahead with knowledge of safety, confidence in safety, and some very strong evidence of it preventing mild and moderate disease and a pointer towards preventing death.

“So I feel this is a time for celebration. It’s a new year, it’s Christmas, we need some hope. The days are getting longer, the sun is shining, the storm is over and the vaccines are on their way. I think we all need a little bit of hope.”

Prof McConkey said he expected there to be between three and five vaccine options available in the State within four to six months, adding that he hoped to gain more “nuanced detail about the specific characteristics” of different vaccines.

Some of the vaccines which are set to become available in the coming weeks may work better among children under two years of age while others may work better among young people or 90 year olds, he said.

Other vaccines may turn out to be stronger at preventing transmission which will be particularly important for those working in nursing homes “whose main risk is not only to themselves but actually transferring as a vector the virus to people they’re caring for”.

Europe began its cross-border vaccination programme on Sunday after the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine were delivered to EU member states. Countries including France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Spain are planning to begin mass vaccinations, starting with health workers on Sunday.

The next vaccine set for approval by the EU is the Moderna vaccine, with authorisation expected on January 6th. After that, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is considerably easier to administer as it does not require very cold storage as is the case with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna jabs, is expected to get EU approval in early January.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) recorded 1,296 new cases of Covid-19 on December 26th, the highest number of cases reported in a single day since the pandemic began. Before this week, the daily figure had not been above 1,000 since October 25th.

Some six coronavirus-related deaths were also reported on St Stephen’s Day, bringing to 2,200 the total number of deaths as a result of the pandemic.