Donnelly to consult with Niac over proposed changes in Covid-19 vaccine plan

HSE proposed plan envisages AZ and J&J vaccines being offered to under 50s

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is to consult with the State's vaccines watchdog over proposed changes in the national Covid-19 immunisation plan.

The HSE submitted a plan to Government on Monday, which sticks to the age-based approach favoured by Government but envisages AstraZeneca and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines being offered to the under 50s.

Advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) currently recommends the vaccines should only be offered to the over 50s, but does allow for some exceptions. As reported by The Irish Times on Tuesday, the revised plan includes offering the two vaccines to people under 50 would not contravene the Niac recommendations.

A spokesman for Mr Donnelly said on Tuesday evening that the proposals were received on Monday night. “These proposals are now being reviewed by the Minister, who will consult further the [Chief Medical Officer] and Niac in the coming days”.



While the cabinet was updated on the vaccine rollout today, the revised plan was not brought for discussion or approval by the Government, it is understood. Last week Niac opened up eligibility for the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines to the over 50s, but it was feared that due to the delivery schedules associated, many of those newly eligible for the vaccines could have received a different jab by the time substantial shipments arrived, rendering them useless.

The HSE considered doling out available Pfizer and Moderna shots to those under 50 and asking people in their 50s to await the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson deliveries, but to do so would depart from the age-based plan. It could also have seen those in their 50s awaiting a shot for longer than anticipated, if there were delivery delays.

Instead, in a bid to avoid wasted vaccines, the plan is to offer them to the under 50s as well.

The headline recommendation for both vaccines is they should be offered to the over-50s only. But some exceptions have been sketched out.

Two-dose course

On April 29th, Niac wrote that when a two-dose course of an mRNA vaccine is “not a feasible alternative” for people aged from 18-49 the J&J vaccine “can be considered”.

Earlier in April, Niac told the CMO that AstraZeneca could be used in adults aged under 60 “where the benefits clearly outweigh the risk… and the person has made an informed decision based on an understanding of the risks and benefits”. The more recent letter, which also included advice on AstraZeneca, doesn’t reiterate this advice, and it’s not clear which takes primacy.

Opposition figures believe there is a push on to use the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in particular to the greatest extent possible. "It seems to me the HSE are pushing to get as much J&J used as possible, and it seems to me a sensible solution," says Labour leader Alan Kelly.

It's a view shared by Sinn Féin's health spokesman, David Cullinane. "Niac have made the recommendation and the Government have accepted that, but there is flexibility in it and it's important for the HSE to avail of those flexibilities."

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times