Ireland faces vaccines shortfall of 300,000 amid bitter row in Europe over supply

AstraZeneca warns of ‘signficant drop’ in supply, Oireachtas commitee is told

The State is forecasting a shortfall of 300,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses in the first three months of the year, chair of the vaccine taskforce Brian MacCraith has confirmed. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

There is forecast to be a shortfall of some 300,000 vaccine doses in the first three months of the year compared to initial projections, the chair of the vaccine taskforce has confirmed.

The State had been promised 1.4 million doses of three vaccines by the end of March, which it intended to use to vaccinate 700,000 people, Prof Brian MacCraith told the Oireachtas Health Committee this morning.

However, he told the committee a “significant drop” has been indicated by AstraZeneca, which is in the midst of a bitter row with the European Commission over the delivery timetable for its vaccine – which has been described as a “game changer”.

“That 1.4 million doses has dropped to 1.1 million doses,” Prof MacCraith said; however, he cautioned that the figure may change again, and there may be another delivery of AstraZeneca – which was given regulatory approval today – in March.

A redacted version of the disputed contract between the EU and AstraZeneca was published on Friday, as EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen dismissed the arguments of AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, that the British government had a first claim on doses produced in Oxford and Staffordshire.

Number of vaccines

Prof MacCraith also said Ireland is administering an average of 48,000 vaccines per week, the Oireachtas health committee.

The committee heard that the strategy of the State is to administer vaccines at the same rate as they are being imported into the country. “There are no vaccines resting in the fridges or freezers in any given week,” Prof MacCraith said. The committee heard that while the IT infrastructure for daily updates on vaccination numbers is not yet available, the intention is to begin doing so.

Lucy Jessop, the director of the HSE’s National Immunisation Office said that the health service is “closely controlling the vaccines but sending them out as fast as we can”. Prof MacCraith said that if for any reason AstraZencea’s shot cannot be given to the over 70s, the plan is to vaccinate this cohort with the currently approved Pfizer and Moderna shots.

Chair of vaccine taskforce Brian MacCraith. Photograph: Oireachtas
Chair of vaccine taskforce Brian MacCraith. Photograph: Oireachtas

Prof MacCraith outlined that there are 190,000 doses of AstraZenecea expected in February, across three deliveries, and said that the company has twice confirmed this figure this week. However, the only figure that has been given for March is 95,000 – meaning the total confirmed amount of AstraZeneca is 285,000. The taskforce chair said, however, that this could change and there may be more deliveries in March.

The committee heard that there are four nursing homes where nobody has been vaccinated yet, due to serious outbreaks of Covid, covering about 400 residents and staff. A further 117 nursing homes have “substantial numbers” of staff and residents that have not been vaccinated due to active or recent illness.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which published encouraging results on Friday, is expected to peak in terms of deliveries into the State in quarter three of this year, Prof MacCraith said. However, he said that Ireland will have access to 2.2 million doses of the single-shot vaccine, and there could be “many hundreds of thousands” of shots in the country in the second quarter.

In the more than 44,000-person study, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine prevented 66 per cent of moderate to severe cases of Covid-19, according to a company statement on Friday. Elsewhere, Novavax Inc said on Thursday its coronavirus vaccine was 89.3 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 in a trial conducted in the UK

Fergal Goodman, a senior official in the Department of Health, said that while at the moment supplies of vaccine are “extremely limited”, the situation will improve in the second quarter of the year. “As we get into having a greater range of products, we will be quickly going down (the prioritisation) list,” he said, adding that the large majority of the population was covered by the bottom few cohorts, with around a million in the first ten or so groups.

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