Restricting use of J&J jabs would ‘significantly’ affect vaccine rollout, says Reid

HSE chief says the single-dose jab is a ‘key part’ of State’s vaccine rollout programme

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has informed the Dáil that he expects the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to issue a recommendation on the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine "early next week." Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Restricting the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine would “significantly” affect the rollout of the State’s vaccine programme, HSE chief executive Paul Reid has said.

Mr Reid told the HSE’s weekly Covid-19 press briefing that the 605,000 doses of the paused vaccine were a “key part” of vaccine deliveries for April, May and June.

The HSE is awaiting a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee next week on use of the vaccine in light of concerns about links to blood clots as a rare side effect.

This follows Niac’s decision to restrict use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged 60 in what was already a setback for the speed of the State’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Mr Reid said that vaccinations would be “constrained” if J&J vaccine has similar restrictions.

“It is a very significant impact if it is contained to certain age groups,” he said, noting that it the HSE was due to receive 2.1 million doses of the J&J vaccine this year.

Mr Reid said the additional 545,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine could “negate” any restrictions on the use of the J&J vaccine but limits on its use would still have an effect. “If they can’t be used, it significantly impacts us,” he said.

He expects next week to be the “biggest week so far” for deliveries of vaccines but declined to give an exact figure on the number of vaccinations next week. It would be “the largest number to date, definitely over 150,000 doses,” he said. “It will hugely depend on the Niac decision.”

The HSE was “awaiting clarity” from Pfizer on the next 10 weeks of supplies.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, known as Janssen in Europe, accounts for 15 per cent of the projected supplies of Covid-19 vaccines for April, May and June.

Higher uptake

Damien McCallion, the HSE executive in charge of the vaccine rollout, said the vaccine had earmarked for homeless groups because it was “much more advantageous” in reaching a higher uptake because it was a single-dose vaccine.

Mr Reid said that the multiple changes in volume of supplies and the timing of deliveries have been “beyond frustrating” for the HSE at an operating level.

“Everything has never gone our way in any given week,” he said.

He told the briefing that the HSE had significant shortage facilities but that he “would not like to get to a situation where we have 600,000 vaccines in storage - I don’t see that as a plus.”

Mr Reid said that 148,000 people in the 65- to 69-year-old age had registered to be vaccinated and that registration for those aged 64 opens on Friday and would continue down the ages.

He expected people in their 50s to start receiving their jabs “at the end of May and into June.”

Mr Reid said the HSE was still seeing “concerning levels of transmission across the country” as the Government considers lifting public restrictions.

He warned that the country was still dealing with a “very volatile” coronavirus variant and that the situation “can turn very quickly.”

While expressing frustration at the challenges to the vaccine programme, Mr Reid said that it had brought “huge relief” to hospitals and healthcare staff with sharp declines in infection rates.

Mr Reid said the health service had come through “many dark days and nights” in January and February and that it was now in “a much better place” due to public measures and vaccines.

HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said there had been a “huge drop” in new Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations since the surge of infections at the peak of the third wave in January.

Cases, on a seven-day average, were 5.8 per cent of their peak, while new cases among people aged over 85 at 1 per cent of the peak and for 75- 84 age group at 2.1 per cent of the peak.

Mr Reid said there had been 29 Covid-19 cases detected at the quarantine hotels. Some 338 swabs have been taken from hotel staff and 1,355 from residents.

Anne O’Connor, HSE chief operations officer, said that there were 60 outbreaks in residential care homes or just 3 per cent of all such facilities, down from a high of 33 per cent.