All adults could be fully vaccinated by the end of August or early September if the new arrangements being put in place work out as planned, the head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Paul Reid has said.
He suggested that changes in official advice to allow the single-dose Janssen and the AstraZeneca vaccines to be used for younger age cohorts as well as the proposals for the State to buy up to one million mRNA vaccines from Romania had the potential to "pull things forward" in terms of overall timelines for the Covid-19 immunisation programme.
“Ultimately if we can work through all of that it could bring us right back to the end of August, early September. That’s where it could bring us if everything comes forward, the take up is as we project, there’s a few variables in there,” Mr Reid said.
He told RTÉ’s This Week programme on Sunday that 120,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine would be distributed to 850 pharmacies across the country this week.
On foot of a change in advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) people between 18 and 34 can opt to accept this vaccine.
The HSE had previously forecast that based on expected supplies at that point, all adults who wanted a vaccine could be fully vaccinated by the end of September. However, Mr Reid indicated that if all things went to plan this timescale could be accelerated.
Mr Reid said it was now projected that there would be just over 200,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine available in July. He said for every 37,500 or of these vaccines used, it represented another one per cent of the population fully vaccinated.
“That really gives us the potential of up to about five per cent extra (of the population ) being competed in July. It is very significant for us in terms of full completion of vaccines.”
“Between that and hopefully what we see emerge from the agreement between the Taoiseach and president of Romania (on the supply of mRNA vaccines) we can see too further incremental benefits too.”
Mr Reid said with the current streams of vaccines available at present, the HSE had forecast that between 60-63 per cent of the adult population would be fully vaccinated by the end of July.
“Certainly if we add in and fully utilise all of the 200,000 doses of Janssen, that will bring us closer to 68 per cent by the end of July.”
He said the benefits of the double-dose AstraZeneca vaccines being administered would not come through fully until August.
Mr Reid said the projected one million additional mRNA vaccines from Romania would allow for 500,000 more people to be fully vaccinated.
“That is another 12 or 13 per cent. We are putting this all together right now. But ultimately it has a real potential to pull things forward.”
He cautioned that “everything is built on supply lines”, however.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said Romania is the only country from which Ireland has managed to strike an agreement with to buy unused vaccines to date.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed on Saturday that a deal had been agreed in principle for Ireland to buy 700,000 Pfizer and 300,000 Moderna vaccines from Romania after it became apparent there was going to be a low take-up by Romanians of the vaccines.
On Sunday, the Department of Health reported another 562 confirmed cases of Covid-19. It is the highest number recorded in one day since early May.
The department said on Twitter that there were 48 patients in hospital with the virus, six more than on Saturday. There are 14 Covid-19 patients in ICU.
Earlier, The Irish Times reported the State will be very close to reaching its aim of 70 per cent of the adult population being fully vaccinated by the end of July.
Last week a long-standing target of giving at least one dose to 82 per cent of adults was missed.
The availability of an additional 210,000 Johnson & Johnson doses during July will mean an additional 5 per cent of the adult population will be vaccinated, according to reliable sources.
At present the vaccination programme is administering an estimated 350,000 jabs per week, with the majority coming from the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.
As of now, some 48 per cent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated with 68 per cent having received a first dose.
The sources said that the second dose of AstraZeneca for those aged 60 to 69 will have been administered by the week beginning July 12th.
The additional million vaccines being sourced from Romania will not be included in the calculation for July as the second booster dose will not be given until August, as there is a four-week gap between doses.
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland a further 533 positive cases of Covid-19 have been reported, the Department of Health said. There were no deaths reported in the past 24 hours.
To date, 2,061,988 vaccines have been administered in the North. Of those, 1,170,556 were first doses and 883,864 were second doses.