The State's Covid-19 vaccination programme received a double boost last night when the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) gave the go-ahead for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and relaxed its restrictions on the AstraZeneca shot.
The decision will enable a quicker rollout of the programme, with the HSE poised to begin administering the single-dose J&J shot this week.
The news came as a massive relief to Government as a delay since last week in the committee giving its recommendations led to fears that the use of the J&J vaccine – now a key part of the programme – would be severely restricted.
But allowing its use in the 50-plus age bracket, along with the change in the AstraZeneca guidelines to a similar regime, will enable a speedy rollout, sources involved in the process said.
The committee also said the J&J vaccine could be used for those under 50 for whom another vaccine was not available and for people in difficult to reach communities.
The advice will now be considered by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, before he briefs Government.
Plan for reopening
Dr Holohan and his colleagues on the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) are due to meet on Wednesday before advising the Government on the plan for reopening, which is likely to be approved by the Cabinet on Thursday.
One further death of a Covid-19 patient was reported on Monday. This brings to 4,874 the total number of deaths in the pandemic. Nphet also reported 437 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 247,069 the total number of cases in the Republic.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin will today tell a Dáil committee the easing of Covid-19 restrictions should be “gradual with sufficient time between phases to assess impact”. But pressure for a wider reopening continued last night when employers’ group Ibec called for a clear roadmap for when businesses could reopen
In a letter to the Taoiseach, Ibec chief Danny McCoy warned that “vague sentiments about the summer will be outdoors is not a plan” and argue that businesses need specific guidance to prepare for a safe reopening in the summer.
Pressure is also growing from within the Government’s own ranks, with two Ministers of State telling The Irish Times they want an easing of travel restrictions .
"People are finding it hugely frustrating," said Limerick County TD Niall Collins. "If we're allowing outdoor activity and limited socialising, restricting it to within your county doesn't make sense."
Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte said she didn't agree with "tying" people down. "We're all adults, let's treat everybody like adults. We're 14 months in this pandemic, we know what's expected – we should do positive reinforcement rather than keeping people locked down," she said.
Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath will today seek Cabinet approval to provide extra cash for departments that are spending Covid funds at a faster than expected pace. However, he will also warn Ministers about current levels of spending.
Separately, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will warn a Dáil committee that Ireland's debt will approach "a quarter of a trillion euro" this year.