The Government is to wait until there is clarity on the use of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine before deciding whether to further increase the gap between doses of other Covid-19 vaccines, Ministers have been told.
European regulators are due to publish a position on the single-shot J&J vaccine later this week, which could have a significant impact on the Irish vaccination programme.
In a note sent to Ministers on Monday afternoon, the Department of Health noted that the European Medicines Agency was likely to make its assessment of potential clotting issues linked to the vaccine later this week.
"Subsequent to the EMA's statement, the implications, if any, for the vaccination programme in Ireland will be considered in the first instance," the note reads. "Thereafter, if deemed appropriate, further consideration may be given to the adjustment of doing intervals for mRNA vaccines."
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has asked for advice on whether the gap between shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could be extended beyond the recommended four weeks in a bid to cover more people with a single shot protection more quickly. However, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said there was no point in updating advice until the EMA advises on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine later this week.
The agency has been considering the use of the vaccine after a small number of cases of very rare blood clots was reported in the US.
Nphet will issue advice when the EMA has reported and its recommendation is incorporated into the Irish vaccine rollout, Dr Glynn said.
“We need to wait to see what the EMA say on that, decide what our approach to that vaccine [J&J] will be in this country, incorporate that into our planning for the rollout of the vaccination programme more broadly and then decide over and above that if there’s a need to extend out the dosing interval for the mRNA vaccines”.
Extending the interval between doses would mean the rollout takes longer to complete and more people would be waiting longer for full protection, he pointed out.
The ongoing improvement in Covid-19 figures continues, according to Dr Glynn.
Case numbers fell last week by 7 per cent, on top of a 22 per cent fall the previous week.
The improvements are being seen across all age groups, he said.
Nphet reported no further deaths of Covid-19 patients, and an additional 403 cases on Monday.
Up to Saturday, 1,204,063 doses of vaccine had been administered; 852,189 first doses and 351,874 second doses.
Of the new Covid-19 cases, 174 are in Dublin, 34 in Meath, 20 in Kildare, 18 in Mayo, 16 in Cork, with the remaining 141 cases spread across 20 other counties.
The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 115 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Donegal has the highest county incidence, followed by Kildare. Kilkenny has the lowest incidence
The median age of cases is 31 years and 73 per cent are under 45.
On Monday morning, 183 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, including 50 in ICU. There were seven additional hospitalisations in the previous 24 hours.