Taoiseach says younger people need to be vaccinated ‘more quickly’ as Delta variant spreads

J&J and AZ vaccines should be reconsidered for younger people because ‘balance of risk has changed’, Micheál Martin says

Taoiseach Michéal Martin at the European Union  leaders meeting in Brussels, Belgium. Photograp: Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg

Taoiseach Michéal Martin at the European Union leaders meeting in Brussels, Belgium. Photograp: Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg

 

The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines should be reconsidered for younger groups because the spread of the Delta variant has changed the balance of risk, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

As the Department of Health reported on Friday afternoon another 380 cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed with 38 cases in hospital, 13 of them in ICU, and the corresponding figures reported in the North were 229, 16 and zero, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan is to hold discussions with the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to see if age restrictions can be reconsidered.

“The chief medical officer . . . indicated to me he would be engaging with Niac in respect of the application or administering vaccines in terms of age restrictions, particularly in the context of AstraZeneca and Janssen,” Mr Martin told journalists at an EUsummit in Brussels.

“That would really broaden the portfolio of vaccines available for July and August,” Mr Martin said.

“I think the balance of risk has changed – therefore that’s something that would be considered by the immunisation advisers to Government in terms of making sure that we can protect people against the Delta variant,” he added.

“We need to get down to the younger age cohorts more quickly if we possibly can, and get them protected.”

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen updated EU leaders last night on vaccine deliveries and said the bloc was on course to hit its target of vaccinating 70 per cent of adults ahead of time.

However, an additional boost in supplies of the mRNA Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is not expected until perhaps the third quarter of the year, meaning stockpiles of Janssen and AstraZeneca vaccines may accumulate while people are still awaiting jabs unless age guidelines are changed.

Earlier, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys said the Government is looking at ways to speed up the country’s vaccination programme, The Minister was speaking on Friday about potential delays to the reopening of indoor dining, originally scheduled for July 5th. A delay is seen as increasingly likely, and the National Public Health Emergency Team is working on advice to be delivered to Government next week.

“A delay means more people will be vaccinated. The Government is looking at ways to speed up the vaccinations, at other avenues to speed up the vaccination programme, that will give people protection,” Ms Humphreys told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

She said the Government must wait for data before it can make a decision on the date for the reopening of the indoor hospitality sector.

The Minister also told the programme she will bring primary legislation before the Dáil next week to clarify the position on alcohol being consumed outside licensed premises.

Monday

The chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) earlier called for a decision on Monday at the latest about any possible delay to the scheduled reopening.

Adrian Cummins told the same programme that the RAI requested a meeting with the Government to discuss the issue. “This could be the summer that is lost for our industry,” he said.

The possibility of reopening was “moving away towards the horizon” and the sector needed an early decision as it could cost a restaurant €20,000 to restock, which was a huge financial outlay, he said.

This was a critical time for the industry and the sector needed to know what percentage of the population needed to be fully vaccinated before hospitality could be safely fully reopened.

“If we’re not there yet, then we need to know this information as soon as possible,” Mr Cummins said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Thursday said a decision on the reopening of indoor hospitality would be made next week.

Mr Martin told Virgin Media News he shared concerns of the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, over the more transmissible Delta variant, which is now dominant in the UK and is estimated to account for 20 per cent of Ireland’s new Covid-19 cases.

He said officials are watching how the situation unfolds in the UK and other European countries. New modelling must be undertaken to assess the potential impact of the Delta variant, which originally emerged in India, Mr Martin said.

The vaccine programme is rolling out effectively, he said, and providing “massive protection”, but Mr Martin said he is determined to ensure the progress made is not jeopardised. Any decision made going forward on the reopening of indoor dining early next month, will be based on the principle that “we do not want to be going back”.

Concern

Meanwhile, a professor of immunovirology has expressed concern at the pace with which the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) makes decisions, referring to proposals to use MRNA vaccines as a second dose for people who received AstraZeneca for their first dose.

Prof Liam Fanning on Friday told Newstalk Breakfast that nine other countries were already mixing the vaccines which had been shown in clinical trials to be very effective. The professor said he did not understand why there had been a delay in making such a decision.

Prof Fanning said he was particularly concerned about people aged 60 to 69 who had yet to receive their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. They should be given the Pfizer vaccine as their second dose ahead of people in other age cohorts, he said.

“Triage those who are most vulnerable. They need to be vaccinated immediately. That has to be the focus,” he said.

Prof Fanning said the next cohort to be prioritised should be the group who were most socially active those under the age of 40.

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