The Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, has confirmed he wants to see AstraZeneca vaccines used on young people to slow the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, which is most prevalent in people in their late teens and early 20s.
However, he said it could not happen for "a couple of weeks" at the earliest and he does not know when Niac, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations on vaccine use, would be in a position to approve such a change to the rollout strategy.
Currently, adenovirus vaccines such as AstraZeneca and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson are restricted for use in older cohorts due to fears they may cause rare blood clots in younger people.
The J&J jab, for example, may only be used in people under 50 if there is no mRNA shot such as Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna available.
Mr Varadkar said on Wednesday morning that, depending on delivery schedules, there may be “hundreds of thousands” of spare AstraZeneca vaccines available in coming weeks after the State has administered second doses of it to those aged over 60.
When asked if the spares could be quickly deployed in those aged over 18 to slow the Delta spread, he agreed and said “it would be a shame not to use them”. Other European countries such as the Netherlands have opened up their adenovirus vaccine stocks to those aged over 18 on an opt-in basis.
He said the Government still had no revised delivery date for the bulk of the 600,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines it was supposed to receive by the end of June. Only a small fraction of the delivery has arrived and those are being administered in pharmacies only to those aged over 50.
“There are no spare Johnson and Johnson vaccines. But there will, potentially, be hundreds of thousands of spare AstraZeneca ones in a couple of weeks,” he said.