People aged between 18 and 34 will be able to opt to receive the one-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine from selected pharmacies from Monday, the Health Service Executive (HSE) has said.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said some 750 pharmacies across the State would be offering the service. Those seeking a jab will be required to book in advance with a participating outlet, a list of which can be viewed here.
Pharmacies reported being inundated with calls from people seeking to register following the announcement, with Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall saying many pharmacists had been “blindsided” by the move.
The Minister appealed for the public to be patient with the revised schedule when they are looking for their vaccination because “right now, there isn’t one for everyone in the audience in July”.
He asked people to “bear in mind we’re doing this really quickly, it’s logistically very complex. It won’t run perfectly”.
The decision follows a change in advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to allow people aged under 40 to receive the J&J and AstraZeneca shots as the State seeks to widen the vaccine rollout amid concern about the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant of the disease.
Niac has said it was still preferable that those aged 18-49 receive mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer or Moderna due to the risk of rare blood clotting posed by the adenoviral shots.
However, given the urgency to complete vaccination of as many people as possible, it said AstraZeneca and J&J can be offered to younger people seeking protection.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan last night warned that an increase in infections driven by the Delta variant indicated a fourth wave of the pandemic was now beginning in Ireland.
Speaking in the Dáil on Friday, Mr Donnelly said pharmacies providing vaccines to the 18-34 cohort was part of a “significant acceleration” of the State inoculation programme.
He said the HSE’s online registration portal for mRNA vaccines would open for people aged 30 to 34 from next Friday. He said the current estimate was that people aged 25 to 29 would be able to register to receive a mRNA shot in in early August with the 18-25 cohort following around mid-August.
In a statement, the Department of Health said consent mechanisms would be put in place by the HSE to ensure anyone under 35 wishing to avail of a J&J or AstraZeneca vaccine “is appropriately informed of the rare side-effects associated with the adenoviral vector vaccines”.
“People in this group will also be advised about the probable timing of the availability of mRNA vaccine for their age group when considering this accelerated option,” it said.
Full details on the safety of the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines will be available on the HSE’s website this weekend as per NIAC guidelines, the director of the HSE’s vaccine programme Damien McCallion told RTÉ’s News at One.
While speed was important, so was safety, he added.
Mr Donnelly said almost 4.2 million vaccine doses have been administered, with more than two in every three adults having now received at least one dose.
He said there would be about 305,000 vaccines available in July for the younger cohort, which comprises some 550,000 people aged 18 to 29 and 250,000 aged 30 to 34.
He said the Government had no confirmation of supply from AstraZeneca for August but confirmed that 285,000 J&J shots were expected. He said he expected people aged 60-69 awaiting second AstraZeneca doses would receive them in the next 10 to 11 days.
‘Raring to go’
To date 60,000 doses of the J&J vaccine have been distributed to about 700 pharmacies, with a further 70,000 doses on hand at short notice if required, the HSE said. Previously, pharmacies had been administering the vaccines to people over 50 who were yet to receive a shot or were initially hesitant about receiving a vaccine. Some 7,000 doses have been administered to that group to date.
The HSE said pharmacies had received training in how to administer the vaccines and Darragh O’Loughlin, chief executive of the Irish Pharmacy Union, said his members were “ready and raring to go”.
“We will be delighted to do that,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
Ms Shortall told the Dáil pharmacies were now facing a “big rush” of calls from people seeking vaccines but had not been told when deliveries would be made.
She said others had run out and “don’t know when they’re going to get new deliveries. So it’s really important that that message gets out to pharmacists as quickly as possible”.
Mr Donnelly admitted it was likely “any given pharmacy” may not get the supply it expects on Monday and may have to reschedule vaccination appointments.
Meanwhile, Mr Donnelly strongly defended the advice received on the Delta variant from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) this week. The advice led the Government to indefinitely halt plans to allow bars and restaurants to begin serving customers indoors from July 5th.
He said Dr Holohan and his colleagues carefully considered all aspects of the issue and made their recommendations after analysing all available salient facts.
“I’d like to put on the record of this House just how disappointed and uncomfortable I have been with some of the public commentary and the online vitriol that has been directed at senior figures in Nphet in recent days,” the Minister said.
“These people have worked tirelessly for 18 months, and I have enormous respect for them. They do not have an easy job.”
Delta variant danger
Mr Donnelly warned of the substantial danger posed by the Delta variant and its impact in the UK.
“Thankfully, the levels of hospitalisation and death are growing much slower than the rise in cases, due to so many people being vaccinated. And we are watching closely to see how well that holds up,” he said.
“But even using those lower rates now seen in the UK, Nphet’s modelling earlier this week showed that for two of the four scenarios presented we could be looking at a situation growing in August and into September that could be worse than what happened here in January.
“We could run out of ICU beds, thousands of people could die from Covid, and normal healthcare services would be severely compromised. The two greatest weapons we have to stop that happening are following the public health measures in place and getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.”