Niac expected to clear way for use of Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines in under-50s

HSE to shortly begin sending J&J vaccine to centres for use in currently approved cohorts

CSO data analysed by the HSE suggests that another 230,000 people would become eligible to receive the vaccines if the eligibility was lowered to 45. Photograph: Samsul Said/Bloomberg

CSO data analysed by the HSE suggests that another 230,000 people would become eligible to receive the vaccines if the eligibility was lowered to 45. Photograph: Samsul Said/Bloomberg

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Senior Government and health service figures expect that advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Council (Niac), due this week, will clear the way for the use of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines for people under 50.

Ministers and senior officials have been waiting for revised advice from Niac on the use of the vaccines since last week, and there is an expectation that it will be forwarded to the Government before the weekend.

The HSE will shortly begin sending the J&J vaccine to vaccination centres for use in the currently approved cohorts.

On Wednesday evening there were growing hopes that the advice from Niac could allow for even more latitude than the age range for eligibility suggested by the HSE, of 45-50.

One source said that the expectation is that it would allow people aged 45 and above to receive the shot at “the very least”.

Easing the current restriction on the use of the vaccines, currently recommended for those over 50, would provide a significant boost to the vaccination campaign, say those involved in the process.

Eligibility

CSO data analysed by the HSE suggests that another 230,000 people would become eligible to receive the vaccines if the eligibility was lowered to 45.

About 530,000 people are aged between 35 and 44, meaning hundreds of thousands more people could become eligible if the decision broadens the age range further. Some of the people in these age groups would have been vaccinated in earlier cohorts.

Impatience in Government about the Niac advice – for which it has been waiting since last week – has been moderated by the universal expectation that the current restrictions on the use of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson shots will be relaxed, boosting the acceleration of the vaccination programme.

Senior sources say that it has been made clear to Niac that such a move would be important for the vaccination programme, which has been hampered by supply shortages and restrictions.

A range of public figures, including Taoiseach Micheál Martin, HSE chief Paul Reid and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, have suggested in the past week that easing the age restrictions would greatly help the programme, while all have emphasised that the decision is a matter for Niac.

Growing confidence

The growing confidence in Government around the vaccine programme was reflected also in comments made at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. He told colleagues that everyone who wants a Covid-19 vaccine appointment could be offered one by the end of June.

Mr Varadkar also said pandemic welfare supports for particularly stricken areas like hospitality, tourism, aviation and the arts may continue into next year. He effectively ruled out hikes to income tax in the coming years after the IMF said a gradual increase in tax revenue should be considered once a recovery from coronavirus has taken hold.

Ministers were told on Tuesday that about 35.5 per cent of the adult population had received a first shot of vaccine, and 13 per cent were fully vaccinated. Between 250,000 and 270,000 vaccines will be administered this week. About 240,000 doses have been delivered in the 60- to 69-year-old age range, which comprises approximately 420,000 people. Last week, a total of 214,920 vaccines were delivered, the Department of Health said on Wednesday.

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