Vaccinations against Covid-19 for people aged between 18 and 34 begin on Monday, as more than 800 pharmacies across the country begin administering the one-shot Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (J&J) jab.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) recently changed its advice 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 Delta variant.
The news comes as the limit is removed on the number of people who can visit a private home together if they are all fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 in the previous 9 months.
Organised outdoor events of 200 people are also now permitted.
Professor Brian MacCraith, chair of the High-Level Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination, said that 50 per cent of the country’s adult population will be fully vaccinated by Tuesday, with 4.4 million doses administered to date, including 343,000 doses in the past week.
A pharmacist in Waterford has said he had to close off registration for the 18-34 age group because so many people were trying to register.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Daragh Connolly said it was a very exciting day for pharmacists, who were delighted to be at the heart of the fight against Covid.
His pharmacy closed off registration when over 150 people had registered.
“Without knowledge of the supply of the vaccine, we didn’t think it would be fair to keep taking names, so we’re just asking people to be patient with us, and indeed they have. There’s fantastic enthusiasm from this cohort to get vaccinated.”
Mr Connolly said his pharmacy can, at capacity, comfortably and safely, administer up to 100 vaccines per week. If it can get the supply to match the level of interest, then “more and more people” will be vaccinated.
“We are reading that there may be another 200,000 Janssen vaccines coming into the country, so I think there is huge capacity within community pharmacies to administer those vaccines in probably four to six weeks with a fair wind,” he said.
Immunologist Professor Luke O’Neill has described the enthusiasm of the 18 to 34 age cohort to get vaccinated as “great news” and indicated that there was no vaccine hesitancy in the age group.
“The fact that they’re lining up (to get vaccinated) is great news,” he told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show.
There was a greater risk in cycling to get the vaccine than there was in getting the vaccine, he added. The risk of clotting was “incredibly low.”
The virus, even the Delta variant, was benign for those under the age of 18 with minimal risk, so he wanted Ireland to send any surplus vaccines to countries who need it, when everyone over the age of 18 who wanted the vaccine, had been vaccinated.
When asked about the possibility of British prime minister Boris Johnson removing the mandatory mask wearing rule and making it personal choice, Prof O’Neill said he thought it was too soon to do that.
“I don’t envy any politician at the moment, there is a lot of unknown factors, it is case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he added.
Ventilation remained a key factor, he said. He said he was an advocate for CO2 monitoring.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid has said all eligible adults could be fully vaccinated by the end of August or early September if the new arrangements being put in place work out as planned.
He suggested that changes in official advice to allow the single-dose J&J and the AstraZeneca vaccines to be used for younger age cohorts as well as the proposals for the State to buy up to one million mRNA vaccines from Romania had the potential to "pull things forward" in terms of overall timelines for the Covid-19 immunisation programme.
“Ultimately if we can work through all of that it could bring us right back to the end of August, early September. That’s where it could bring us if everything comes forward, the take up is as we project, there’s a few variables in there,” Mr Reid said.
He told RTÉ’s This Week programme on Sunday that 120,000 doses of the J&J vaccine would be distributed to 850 pharmacies across the country this week.
Mr Reid said it was now projected that there would be just over 200,000 doses of the J&J vaccine available in July. He said for every 37,500 or of these vaccines used, it represented another one per cent of the population fully vaccinated.
“That really gives us the potential of up to about five per cent extra [of the eligible population] being completed in July. It is very significant for us in terms of full completion of vaccines.
“Between that and hopefully what we see emerge from the agreement between the Taoiseach and president of Romania (on the supply of mRNA vaccines) we can see further incremental benefits too.”
A further 562 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported on Sunday, the highest number recorded in one day since early May.