How is the State’s vaccine rollout going?

More than 5.2 million doses given to date as Delta variant 'roaring' through community

The vaccine programme is this week set to administer its three millionth first dose and has already given out more than 5.2 million shots overall.

With the growth driven by the Delta variant “roaring”, in the words of Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, where is the State’s vaccine programme at this critical juncture?

Recent weeks have been marked by the effective peak of our vaccination programme. Weekly totals for each of the last five weeks have exceeded 350,000 doses and the week commencing July 5th had 376,000 shots done – equivalent to about 10 per cent of the adult population receiving a shot that week.

Narrowing of the gap between AstraZeneca doses, first to eight, and then to four weeks, means that everyone due to receive a second shot of that vaccine has now been offered one, with ramped-up deliveries of more than 100,000 per week dropping to 52,000 last week as it approached its conclusion.

About 5,500 people in that category – comprised mostly of the 60 to 69-year-olds, some healthcare workers and others from vulnerable cohorts – need to have a new appointment issued as they could not take up their first appointment.

About 450,000 people have been given their second dose of AstraZeneca in the few weeks since that part of the programme was accelerated.

This means the initial AstraZeneca rollout is largely complete – but deliveries continue. Doses of the vaccine can now be given to younger people and those aged 18-24 are now being asked to sign up through the online portal to receive AstraZeneca.

Younger people are also able to sign up for earlier access to Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) single-shot vaccine, again if it means they get vaccinated quicker, with strong demand reported through pharmacies. By the end of July, 200,000 J&J doses will have arrived in the country, 32,000 of which are due to arrive at the very end of the month. More of these doses are expected in August, but it is unknown exactly when they will arrive.

Effectively, the AstraZeneca and J&J deliveries will act as supplementary engines to the vaccine rollout, with eligible cohorts who put their hands up getting early access and providing extra power to the main engine – the mRNA vaccines Pfizer and Moderna.

That mRNA supply is now switching focus to the 18-34 cohort, rolling out through mass vaccination centres. It is anticipated this group will be finished by mid-August. Current deliveries of Moderna and Pfizer are about 210,000 doses per week, seen by those involved in the programme as rock solid in terms of delivery reliability.

Next month, deliveries of the two mRNA vaccines are projected to grow to about 240,000 a week.

Focus switching to under-18s

Negotiations on extra vaccine purchases from other EU countries, like Romania, are ongoing and might also give an uplift in supply, and therefore speed up the programme further.

During August, the focus will switch to vaccinating the under-18s. First, 16 and 17-year-olds, who are already covered by regulatory advice and already “in” the programme will be delivered. While there are additional consent hurdles to be cleared as they are not adults, sources are optimistic that this cohort can be dealt with in mass vaccination centres, completing by the middle of September. However, if the cards fall favourably, sources said they could be done by the end of August.

Advice on the 12 to 15-year-old category from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is awaited. As they would not be done until after the 16 or 17-year-olds are complete, this is not pressing – but it is important. It is a small cohort, of about 269,000 people, and if the advice arrives in time for them to be dealt with while the infrastructure of the mass vaccination centres is still in place, they could be done rapidly.

Many could even be given a first dose before the school year begins again and a second thereafter. If they are done through the normal schools vaccination programme progress will be slower. This cohort could be smaller again, if Niac recommended only vaccinating vulnerable members of the 12 to 15-year-old age group.