Revised HSE Covid vaccination plan to proceed with older people offered vaccines first

Same approach will apply to under-50s as to over-50s following high-level discussions

The revised coronavirus vaccination plan is to proceed with older people first and any vaccine available will be used to keep up the pace of the rollout over the next two months.

Following discussions between health officials and Ministers in recent days it is expected that the same approach will apply to under-50s as to over-50s – meaning that some people in their 40s could be offered the Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca shots.

The revised plan has been under consideration since the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) last week advised that AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines should not be given to the under-50s where possible.

However, officials believe that offering the two vaccines to people aged under- 50 would not contravene the Niac recommendations, which said use should not be restricted if no other option is available.

The Health Service Executive sent recommendations on the revised plan to Government yesterday ahead of today’s Cabinet meeting, at which Ministers are expected to discuss the plan.

At present people aged over 60 are being vaccinated, with those over 50 being invited to register from today. The 40-49 cohort is not expected to be reached for some weeks.

There will be some “parallel” vaccinations, where doses are administered to two cohorts simultaneously, but this will only occur where one cohort is being finished and the other started.

There had been speculation that the Government would opt to begin vaccinating younger people with Pfizer vaccines while proceeding with the over-50s at a slower pace.

However, it is understood that this has not been recommended due to the risk of severe illness from Covid-19 being greater for the older cohort. There is also a determination to avoid a situation where vaccines are left unused while some people are still waiting for a jab.

HSE figures show that just over 700,000 Covid-19 vaccines were administered in April, substantially fewer than the target of 860,000. The programme has been hampered by factors including unreliable deliveries and restrictions on the use of some shots while awaiting, or as a result of, Niac recommendations.

Veracity of the data

Paul Reid, the HSE chief executive, had yesterday said there was “great momentum” in the vaccination programme, posting on Twitter that almost 200,000 vaccinations had been administered last week and “over 788,000 done through April”.

However, the HSE later confirmed that this figure included some vaccinations carried out in late March and at the beginning of this month.

“Our revised plan will aim to continue momentum and work down through the ages with available supplies,” Mr Reid said.

A further 453 Covid-19 cases were reported last night, taking the total since the pandemic began beyond the 250,000 mark. No further deaths related to the disease were reported.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has presented plans to open up non-essential travel into the bloc to people from around the world who have been vaccinated with a jab approved for use in the European Union. Ireland would not be covered by the agreement because it is not part of the Schengen free travel area or an associated member, but the State could choose to align.

Under the proposals, the EU would lift its ban on non-essential travel from outside the bloc for people who have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days before travel.