Vaccine rollout to be boosted by delivery of 165,000 AstraZeneca doses

Change to supply plan comes after EMA licenses manufacture of drug in Asian plant

The European Medicines Agency has reiterated that the benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine outweigh any risks. File photograph: Getty

The European Medicines Agency has reiterated that the benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine outweigh any risks. File photograph: Getty

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Ireland is set to receive a large delivery of 165,000 AstraZeneca vaccines next week that had earlier been postponed until May, in a boost to the State’s vaccination programme which has been beset by delays.

The latest change in the supply plan for the AstraZeneca vaccine has been made possible after the European Medicines Agency licensed the manufacture of its vaccine in a plant in Asia.

AstraZeneca now expects to hit its European delivery target of 20 million doses this month, and 70 million in the second quarter, with Ireland receiving a pro rata share of about 1 per cent.

The Health Service Executive, which has complained about repeated changes to the company’s delivery schedule, said last night it was “more hopeful than we were” of supplies arriving next week.

News of the improved supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine comes as the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) considers whether to broaden its use in the population. The vaccine is restricted to those aged over 60. Yesterday, the HSE’s online appointment system opened for registrations from people aged 64, while 63 year olds will be able to register from today. More than 170,000 people have registered since the portal went live last week.

The European Medicines Agency has reiterated that the benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine outweigh any risks, as part of a detailed guidance into rare blood clots to help individual nations determine the shot’s use.

There is an expectation in Government that the Niac will also authorise the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine for use next week, paving the way for a further acceleration of the programme. Sources drew encouragement from Germany’s decision not to impose limits on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while last night, the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that the use of the vaccine should resume following a 10-day pause.

But there is continuing unease in Government at what one Minister described as the “lack of urgency” many detect in the Niac’s consideration of vaccines.

Government wanted to get the all clear to use the vaccine before this weekend, but the Niac said it would not issue any advice until early next week.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine

HSE chief Paul Reid said that if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved the HSE would begin administering the shots next week. He said the organisation would have 40,000 doses of the single-dose vaccine by next week.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that approval to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from the Niac would “really advance the programme” of vaccinations.

There are concerns in Government that a restrictive decision would hit public support for the vaccine programme and damage the wider effort to suppress the virus.

“We can’t tell people to continue with social distancing without saying there’s a chance of being vaccinated,” said a Government source. “If we’ve 40,000 [Johnson & Johnson doses] in the fridge, how can you ethically or morally justify not giving them out?”

Meanwhile, momentum continues to grow towards reopening economic and social life and officials are working on options for Ministers to consider next week. There was significant relief among Ministers at the broadly positive outlook presented by chief medical officer Tony Holohan after his return to frontline duties this week, according to sources.

It is expected that the Government will unveil the reopening measures next Thursday or Friday, after a special Cabinet meeting.

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