Vaccination system to face significant test in next few weeks

Numbers vaccinated will need to build quickly to nearly 250,000 people a week

A row in the Dáil about Covid-19 vaccine supply for April has again put the spotlight on the volume of shots likely to be available to administer to the population in the coming vital months. So what do we know?

The Government has indicated that on average one million vaccines a month will be available in April, May and June. It now appears that the likely supply in April will be between 900,000 and one million and that it will exceed one million in the subsequent two months.

A further rise in supply is expected in July, by which time the programme will be targeting the large younger population groups.

There is increasing confidence in Government and the Vaccine Task Force about the stability of supply, after a fraught first quarter. This will mean that supply – and vaccination – will be running in the second quarter at about three times the level during the first quarter , with a sharp ramping up of activity starting in April. Pfizer has confrimed that it delivered 737,000 doses in Ireland and expects a trebling of this in the second quarter.

The next phase

The next phase will involve vaccinating the two groups of medically vulnerable patients with their first jabs – and moving on to the 65-69 year old age group. This latter group will be the first part of the wider population to register on the online portal, which is due to open in the middle of this month. Second vaccines for some earlier groups also remain to be done, including some healthcare workers and over 70s.

Some 850,000 vaccines have been administered to date and about one in six of the adult population have received a first dose. To date the vast bulk of arriving vaccines have been administered within a week – with a small buffer held back for security for second doses. The total number of vaccines administered is set to pass one million next week.

To maintain this approach of using most vaccines as they arrive will require vaccination numbers now building quickly to close to 250,000 a week. The system will thus face a significant test in the next few weeks, with the highest weekly total of 120,000 so far.

Supply figure

It now seems likely that the supply figures for May and June may be a bit more than one million a month, leading to weekly vaccinations of up to 300,000 people.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the Government hopes to have more than 80 per cent with at least once vaccination by the end of June and 60 per cent with two. Separately, the European Commission has said it hopes to have at least 70 per cent of the EU population fully vaccinated by July. The arrival of the one-dose Johnson&Jonson vaccine will help.

Achieving these levels should lead to very significant falls in illness and infections and allow a wider reopening of the economy, as hinted at in this week’s announcement by the Government.

It is understood that the hope is that supply will rise further in July. With all the 37 mass vaccination centres running at full steam, weekly numbers could move to 400,000 plus at that stage. It is still not clear when the entire adult population may be completed – or at least those accepting a vaccine.

However, if the numbers do ramp up further from July it could allow this to happen ahead of the original expectation of mid-September, or at least not to slip beyond that. But first we have to see if supply has really stabilised and then whether the infrastructure to rapidly increase volumes can work as intended.

As well as GPs, hospitals and pharmacies, the major vaccination centres and the online booking portal are central to this plan to ramp up delivery.