The pace of Ireland's Covid-19 vaccine rollout is set to increase next week with the first doses administered to over-85s in the community and the first widespread use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) says about 40,000 second doses will be administered next week, along with a small number of first doses. It expects to take delivery of 212,000 doses of the three approved vaccines in the second half of this month, compared to 338,000 since the first vaccines arrived here after Christmas.
HSE chief clinical officer Colm Henry said the vaccine programme in nursing homes and other congregated settings for people over the age of 70 is "almost complete". According to Dr Henry, five out of every 100 people in Ireland have now got the vaccine and 1.7 per cent are fully vaccinated.
According to the Department of Health’s Covid-19 hub, 248,284 vaccines had been administered up to last Tuesday – 158,904 first doses and 89,380 second doses.
The vast majority of doses administered have been Pfizer-BioNTech. Just 1,893 Moderna doses have been administered and 476 AstraZeneca.
A further 21,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines arrived in Ireland yesterday, following the delivery of a similarly sized consignment last weekend. Of the first delivery, 15,000 was sent to hospitals, 3,000 to the National Ambulance Service and 2,000 is being used in pop-up vaccination of primary care workers.
Some 3,600 Moderna doses arrived in Ireland a month ago, but half are being kept as second doses, to be administered in coming days.
Another 6,000 doses arrived on January 25th. These were originally intended for healthcare workers but after it was decided not to use the AstraZeneca vaccine on over-65s, the HSE decided to reserve them, and a further 10,800 doses that arrived this week, for older people.
Meanwhile, a further 23 deaths of Covid-19 patients were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team yesterday.
Two of the deaths occurred in January and 21 in February. Those who died ranged in age from 57 to 95 and the median age was 84. This brings to 3,865 the total number of deaths in the pandemic.
The team also reported 921 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 207,720 the total number of cases in the Republic.
The 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 293 cases per 100,000 people nationally. Monaghan has the highest county incidence, followed by Carlow. Kerry has the lowest incidence.
The European Medicines Agency has said it has started a rolling review of another trial vaccine, made by CureVac. The agency's announcement was greeted as "more good news" by Prof Brian MacCraith, chairman of the Government's vaccination rollout taskforce. CureVac, an mRNA vaccine like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, is covered by the EU's advance purchase agreements, so Ireland will be able to buy it if it is authorised, he said.
Change for care homes
The Government is to change the system of oversight of all long-term care homes to include religious orders and other residents of congregated settings not previously registered with the Health Information and Quality Authority.
A number of religious orders and other private or voluntary care homes were not included in the initial vaccination of residents and carers in Hiqa-registered nursing homes.
Minister of State for Health Mary Butler told the Seanad yesterday vaccination began on Monday of those over 65 in non-registered long-term care settings, including homes where people have their own front door but live in congregated settings. She said inoculation is expected to be completed by the end of February with the second vaccination four weeks later.