Covid-19 vaccine: Ireland could get 5,000 doses by end of year

Any approved vaccines will be rolled out in three phases under Government plans

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said a “low volume” of vaccinations could take place later this month. Video: PA/Pool

 

Thousands Irish people could get the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine before the new year, depending on authorisation from medicines regulators.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly yesterday predicted a “low volume” of vaccinations could take place this month after the European Medicines Agency brought forward its final assessment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by more than a week.

If the agency authorises the vaccine at an exceptional meeting, now scheduled for next Monday, final approval from the European Commission, which is binding on Ireland and other member states, is expected to follow within days.

Ireland is due to receive several thousand doses of the vaccine initially as part of its 1.11 per cent share of supplies negotiated by the EU on behalf of member states. But because the vaccine is shipped in consignments of 975 vials, each containing five doses, our initial supply will be almost 5,000 doses.

Authorities say they will need to hold back half of those in order to administer the second dose three weeks later. This means 2,500 people could be in the first cohort of those getting the jab before the new year.

Whatever vaccines are approved will be rolled out in three phases, under the plans published by a Government-appointed taskforce yesterday.

An initial rollout will be followed by a mass ramp-up and finally open access. No dates were given for each of the phases, due to uncertainties around the authorisation process and the supply and logistical challenges for each vaccine that is ultimately authorised.

Hospital Report

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Longer lag

Not every drug company would be able to follow through with the delivery of vaccines after regulatory approval as quickly as Pfizer, according to a source involved in planning the rollout, who predicted a longer “lag” between approval and vaccines being widely available, with some not coming on stream until the second half of 2021.

Under the plans, the highest priority groups – those over 65 in long-term care facilities, and healthcare workers in direct contact with patients – will receive the vaccine first.

Vaccines will be administered in long-term care facilities and hospitals and other healthcare sites in the first phase, and then in mass vaccination clinics, GP surgeries and community pharmacies in the two later phases.

The plan foresees a number of risks, including delays in the approval process, IT challenges and a shortage of staff to carry out vaccinations.

A “third peak” of the virus could also affect the number of staff available and the ability of particular groups to access the vaccine, the plan warns.

Low adoption rates in some groups and ineffective communications are also seen as risks, along with the emergence of “a very unforeseen event”.

Free of charge

Up to 14 million doses of six different vaccines will ultimately be available, if they are authorised, to Irish people free of charge.

IBM and Salesforce have been engaged to provide an IT system that will underpin the vaccination programme.

Pfizer said it aimed to start a first shipment as soon as possible, “possibly within hours” of authorisation being received from the EMA. Irish supplies will be shipped from Belgium via Germany to the HSE’s supply centre in Citywest.

The challenge of rolling out a Covid-19 vaccination programme is “unparalleled” due to the “scale, complexity and desire for speed” involved, according to the chairman of the vaccination taskforce, Prof Brian MacCraith.

The team set up to plan the rollout will be kept on and will play an “ongoing role” in overseeing and monitoring the implementation of the programme, he will tell an Oireachtas committee today.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said yesterday the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines would in part be determined by drug companies’ capacity to produce doses, as well as authorisation timelines.

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