Ireland on track for further easing of Covid-19 restrictions after increase in Pfizer vaccines
Optimism over staggered return of non-essential retail and personal services from May
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says the State is now still on track to offer four out of five adults a coronavirus vaccine by the end of June. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Ireland remains on track for a further easing of Covid-19 restrictions from May onwards after it emerged that an extra 545,000 Pfizer shots will be delivered before the end of June.
Government sources have expressed optimism about the staggered return of non-essential retail and personal services next month following a European Commission announcement that EU countries will receive 50 million more Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines in the second quarter of 2021.
It followed turbulent week for the State’s vaccination programme with a pause in the delivery of Johnson and Johnson vaccines and the decision to limit the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged over 60 due to rare blood clot concerns .
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly described the news of extra Covid-19 vaccine deliveries as “really positive” and insisted the State is now still on track to offer four out of five adults a coronavirus vaccine by the end of June.
“It’s more than half a million extra vaccines in April, May and June. Pfizer is recommended for use with all age groups and the results from Ireland and abroad show that it’s incredibly effective against Covid. It keeps Ireland on track for four in every five adults who wants a vaccine being offered one by the end of June. We’re working flat out with the HSE and taskforce to make sure our vaccine programme continues to get vaccines out to people as soon as they arrive in Ireland,” he told The Irish Times.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night said the Pfizer vaccine news puts the rollout “on track in terms of key targets”.
The Government was expecting between three to four million vaccine doses in the second quarter. During a Cabinet meeting yesterday, Ministers were told that this could fall to 3.4 million. However this figure increased to 3.9 million by the afternoon following the Pfizer announcement. If the Johnson and Johnson vaccine gets the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency next week then this could rise to 4.5 million doses, putting the State ahead of target.
Mr Donnelly also held discussions on Wednesday with the acting chief medical officer Ronan Glynn about potentially extending the period between doses for the Pfizer vaccine which would increase the number of patients receiving it in the short term. A final decision on this is expected within the next week.
“Extending the interval between doses for mRNA vaccines is being looked at to see what impact it could have on public protection from Covid. This is being done in light of the strong evidence on the high protection afforded by the first vaccine dose,” Mr Donnelly said.
Under the most up to date vaccine plan being considered by officials, vulnerable people and those under 60 who have received their first AstraZeneca shot will be given a second. The first three cohorts will continue as is, and those aged 60-69 will be invited to register for an AstraZeneca vaccine online from today on a phased basis. The vulnerable cohorts aged under 60 who have not received a vaccine will be given an mRNA vaccine. All others will be given a vaccine by age via online registration with mRNA vaccines or Johnson and Johnson.
The Government is also open to considering offering the Astra Zeneca vaccine to people under 60 who specifically request it but a final decision has not been made.