Impact of using AstraZeneca, Janssen on pace of vaccinations unknown – Varadkar

Tánaiste says Government considering ‘walk-in’ option to receive jab at pharmacies

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar defended the Government plan for indoor dining only for the vaccinated. Photograph: Damien Eagers/The Irish Times

The Government still does not know for sure what impact extending the use of AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines to the under-50s will have on the speeding up the vaccination programme, the Dáil has heard.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said however that they will have information on the revised rollout in the "next couple of days" and they were considering a walk-in model for people to get vaccinated at pharmacies.

Mr Varadkar also defended the Government plan about indoor dining only for the vaccinated, when Labour leader Alan Kelly insisted that young people should not be discriminated against.

“Whatever way we proceed with we cannot say the unvaccinated can only serve the vaccinated,” Mr Kelly said.


Calling for the use of antigen testing Mr Kelly said that whatever mix of testing is done it should include everybody, no matter their age.

Mr Varadkar said that, in relation to the development of the coronapass for pubs and restaurants, the Government would give consideration to the option of testing, but “we also need to be honest that nobody will ever say that any test, whether it’s PCR or Antigen is as good as vaccination.”

“Whatever way we proceed with we cannot say the unvaccinated can only serve the vaccinated,” Mr Kelly said.

But the Tánaiste told him that “the pandemic is unfair” and sometimes science was unfair. He pointed out that at the start of the pandemic older people were the most vulnerable and were asked to cocoon. It was unfair but they did it.

Young people are now the most vulnerable and “we’re asking them to avoid congregating” and socialising for the next couple of weeks until they can be vaccinated.

Walk-in vaccines

Mr Kelly, who described the Government’s decision on delaying the re-opening of hospitality as “chaos” said he would roll out the Janssen vaccine to 18-29-year-olds on a walk-in basis at pharmacies.

He said the Government’s modelling for re-opening society did not include the 900,000 single-dose Janssen vaccines or two million AstraZeneca doses.

Mr Varadkar said they were considering this but there is uncertainty around AstraZeneca supply and what the uptake would be if they operated a walk-in model.

He said if they announced it there might well be queues outside pharmacies but “do we have the stocks”.

It will take “a couple of days to operationalise this and work out”.

Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) secretary general Darragh O’Loughlin said pharmacies stand ready to implement the accelerated programme “immediately” once Government has confirmed the precise details of the roll-out.

“The IPU has consistently campaigned for the HSE to align the vaccination protocols in pharmacies with the Niac [National Immunisation Advisory Committee] advice,” he said.

“I welcome Paul Reid’s statement that the HSE will fully embrace all recommendations by Niac and will utilise all available channels to administer the vaccine.

“Community pharmacies want to play a full role to maximise the scale and pace of the national vaccination effort.

“We await confirmation from Government on the precise details of the expanded availability of vaccines through community pharmacies.

“Once the details are published, we’re ready to implement the accelerated programme immediately.”

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that the modelling presented by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) did not take account of the changes that advice by the immunology advisory committee Niac gave in relation to the two vaccines.

The vaccine programme was to slow down in July before the use of AstraZeneca and Janssen were permitted and “we now know we can do that but we don’t yet know how much it’ll allow us to speed up the vaccination programme in July.”

Mr Varadkar told Mr Kelly “that is the work that is actually being done today” but he warned that there is still uncertainty of supply of AstraZeneca and uncertainty around the impact of changing to a walk-in model.

He said “we will remodel the models. That will be done in advance and it will take into account the experience from Scotland and England in particular.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter