The "vast majority" of 450,000 people awaiting a second shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine under an accelerated rollout will get it ahead of their originally scheduled appointment, the head of the national vaccine taskforce has said.
However, while many will be vaccinated sooner than under the old 12-week dosing gap, which was shortened due to concerns over the Delta variant fuelling a surge in cases in the UK, the HSE was unable to say how many awaiting a second shot would receive it within eight weeks of their first.
The goal is to complete these vaccinations by about July 19th.
“Over 450,000 individuals will get offered AstraZeneca dose two in the coming five weeks, the vast majority ahead of their original schedule,” said Prof Brian MacCraith, chair of the High-Level Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination.
“This second dose offers 92 per cent protection against hospitalisation due to the Delta variant. [That] seems like a good option to me.”
The State is in a race to cover those who have received just one shot of AstraZeneca as they are at greater risk of hospitalisation if infected with the Delta strain. Data from Public Health England suggests protection against hospitalisation with one shot of AstraZeneca was just 71 per cent, versus 94 per cent for Pfizer.
The impact of the changes will be “highly significant” and become evident in coming weeks, Prof MacCraith said, with those having received their first shot 12 weeks ago to benefit first, before those waiting 11 weeks, and so on as the programme advances.
The chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), Prof Karina Butler, warned against "holding off" on taking a second dose of AstraZeneca in the hope a different vaccine would be offered. She indicated any change in Niac's advice on mixing vaccines would not come before the results of studies are published later this month.
About 90,000 people will receive a second dose of AstraZeneca this week. Some 366,000 doses are due for delivery this month.
On Tuesday night, a Government spokesman said a senior group of officials is monitoring the spread of the Delta variant and implications for travel. While the Government remains committed to the reopening schedule, concerns over the situation in the UK – which has seen its final reopening delayed – led to a planned relaxation of quarantine for vaccinated travellers from the UK being abandoned.
A memo prepared for Ministers in recent days proposed that vaccinated people from the UK should be allowed enter the country without quarantining. However, that was changed before Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting , with one Minister suggesting this was in response to developments in Britain.
All entrants from the UK will now have to quarantine at home for 14 days, but can leave after receiving clear PCR tests on day five and day 10, or, if vaccinated, on day five only. The measures come into effect immediately.
In an optimistic briefing at Cabinet, Ministers were told cases had dropped by 21.3 per cent in the week to last Sunday. The five-day average is 19 per cent lower, and the 14-day incidence per 100,000 of population dropped 11 per cent.
Of 5,228 cases reported to last Friday, 82 per cent were among the under-45s and 2 per cent among those aged 65 and up. In the same period, Dublin accounted for 32 per cent of cases, with 17 per cent in Limerick, where the incidence is still “significantly higher” at 451 per 100,000, versus a national figure of 108.
Another 283 cases of Covid were reported on Tuesday.