‘Steep ramp-up’ of vaccine rollout from late April, says chair of taskforce

Over 85s will start receiving invitations for a vaccine in next two weeks, says MacCraith

Ireland is due to get 190,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine during February and a further 95,000 in early March,  Professor Brian MacCraith said. Photograph: iStock

Ireland is due to get 190,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine during February and a further 95,000 in early March, Professor Brian MacCraith said. Photograph: iStock

 

There will be a “significant, steep ramp-up” of the vaccine rollout as supply issues ease from late April and into May, the chair of the high level Covid-19 vaccine taskforce has said.

Professor Brian MacCraith said the limit and uncertainty around supply has been the primary stumbling block facing the rollout of the jab so far. However, in the coming months the challenge will shift to scaling up the workforce and organising vaccination locations to match increased stock, he said.

Prof MacCraith said initial projections suggest April to June “looks like the big quarter” in terms of the vaccine rollout in the State.

However, he heeded caution in making precise predictions as there remains a “sea of uncertainty” around supply.

He said the HSE has undertaken a huge amount of work to increase its ability to administer doses across the country as supply improves, adding: “This moves from a supply uncertainty issue to an administration issue . . . We have said we would not be keeping vaccines in the fridges or the freezer and we would administer vaccines as soon as they arrive.”

So far, 207,330 vaccines have been delivered to Ireland, of which 199,800 have been administered, latest figures show.

He said within the European Union, Ireland has remained in the “top two or three in terms of the scale of rollout, proportionate to our population”.

The third group on the vaccine priority list, people aged over 85 living in the community, are “next in line”, Prof MacCraith said, adding they will begin to receive invitations from their GPs over the next two weeks.

Extra doses

Professor MacCraith was speaking to Newstalk Breakfast ahead of the expected approval by Cabinet of the purchase of almost a million extra doses of the Moderna vaccine. It is hoped that up to one million doses of the vaccine will be delivered to Ireland by July.

Originally the Government had signed up to about 880,000 vaccines from the US drug firm with the EU advanced purchase scheme, but this figure is now due to increase to about 1.75 million doses, Prof MacCraith said.

Meanwhile, the first batch of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are due to arrive at the beginning or middle of next week, Prof MacCraith said. It is planned these will be deployed “almost as soon as they arrive”, he said.

Prof MacCraith said the AstraZeneca vaccine was “particularly attractive” due to its less complicated storage requirements and said it is more suited to community rollout than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Ireland is due to get 190,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine during February and a further 95,000 in early March, he said. However, the task force is awaiting confirmation from AstraZeneca as to how an additional nine million doses secured by the EU translates into Irish supply.

The AstraZeneca order complements the positive news announced on Monday that an additional 75 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be delivered to countries in the EU in the second quarter of the year.

In a separate radio interview on Tuesday with RTÉ, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the focus for the vaccination programme this week will be getting a second dose to frontline workers and care home residents.

He said the programme will then move to give first doses to a second group of frontline workers. Asked when that would happen, the Minister said “very soon”.

The rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine via GPs to the over-85 cohort would also commence “very shortly”, he added.

When asked about the timeline of the vaccine rollout and the possibility of major sporting and cultural events happening later in the year, Mr Donnelly said he hoped such events could happen.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) would have to look at how quickly the risk of transmission was going down as more people were vaccinated. “Nphet will look at how we’re doing on the numbers,” he said.

There was “an awful lot” still to be learned about the vaccine such as how long it would offer protection. “We’re all watching Israel,” he added, referring to one country which has made progress with a rapid rollout of vaccines.