Vaccine plan redrawn to accelerate rollout as summer reopening plans finalised

Stephen Donnelly declares ‘full steam ahead’ on Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines

Visitors at the reopening of Dublin Zoo on Monday: The Coalition is finalising plans for the next phase of reopening, which will be unveiled later this week. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Visitors at the reopening of Dublin Zoo on Monday: The Coalition is finalising plans for the next phase of reopening, which will be unveiled later this week. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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The HSE is redrawing its vaccination programme to include a more rapid rollout in the coming weeks, while senior Government officials are finalising plans for the next phase of reopening due to be to be unveiled on Thursday.

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) which will enable a faster rollout of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines in the coming weeks, prompting Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to declare: “It’s full steam ahead.”

Senior officials in the HSE are now consulting with the Government’s vaccination taskforce to take account of the availability of the Johnson & Johnson shot and the wider use of AstraZeneca.

Mr Donnelly acknowledged on Tuesday the programme will not meet its targets for April because of delays in supply and restrictions on the use of some vaccines, saying that the total for the month is likely to be “700,000-plus” – significantly less than the 860,000 previously hoped for.

However, senior officials say the availability of the J&J vaccine, and the easing of restrictions on AstraZeneca, will enable the programme to make up for lost ground and reach its goal of giving at least a first dose to more than 80 per cent of adults by the end of June – now just over two months away. The HSE is likely to outline the new plan at its weekly press conference on Thursday.

Logistics

The HSE and the vaccine experts are now examining the logistics of running an inoculation programme using four different drugs.

It is understood officials may look at the potential of allocating specific vaccines to specific age groups, which could be easier operationally. That could open up another age cohort for vaccination to be done in parallel with an older cohort.

One senior source said that 60-69 year olds would soon be given the AstraZeneca vaccine. “We will move to the 50-59 year olds with Johnson & Johnson. So what do we do with all the Pfizer shots? Could we do the 40-49 bracket?” the source speculated.

Cabinet sources described Tuesday’s meeting as upbeat, at the news on vaccines and as Ministers prepare to announce reopening plans on Thursday. The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet on Wednesday to consider its advice on the next phase of reopening, due next Monday.

Recommendations

Once Nphet gives its advice to the Government, the chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, and the HSE chief, Paul Reid, will brief the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid – including Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Green leader Eamon Ryan, other Ministers and senior officials . It will then decide on a series of recommendations to go to a full Cabinet meeting.

The Taoiseach is understood to have indicated at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting that the Government may signal an intention to reopen domestic tourism in June, but sources stressed that this is contingent on continuing suppression of the virus. He reiterated the point at Tuesday night’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting.

Separately, Mr Donnelly told an Oireachtas committee on Tuesday Ireland was likely to take part in proposed new European arrangements to allow people who can prove they are fully vaccinated to travel in the EU.

However, he was more cautious about the possibility of such a system being used domestically to facilitate attendances at concerts or sporting events for those who had been vaccinated.

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