Single-dose vaccine will be a game-changer, says Taoiseach

Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be available in Ireland by April

Micheál Martin in  a Covid vaccination unit in Cork City Hall. The Taoiseach says a significant uptick in vaccination supplies from April will see large numbers vaccinated by the end of summer. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/ Provision

Micheál Martin in a Covid vaccination unit in Cork City Hall. The Taoiseach says a significant uptick in vaccination supplies from April will see large numbers vaccinated by the end of summer. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/ Provision

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The single-dose Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine should be available in Ireland by April and will be a game-changer in the plan to vaccinate the entire population, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

As the number of deaths in the State from Covid-19 looks set to surpass 4,000 this week, Mr Martin on Tuesday night set out to give a positive message on the impact of new vaccination supplies.

He said a significant uptick in vaccination supplies from April would see large numbers vaccinated by the end of summer, with all over-70s immune by mid-May. Cabinet was also told on Tuesday that if AstraZeneca was approved for the 65-69 age group, that cohort could also be vaccinated by mid-May.

“Many people will have been vaccinated by the end of the summer and there is no doubt they will have a different life because of that,” the Taoiseach said in an interview with Seacht Lá on TG4.

Johnson & Johnson applied on Tuesday to the European Medicines Agency seeking authorisation for its single-dose vaccine, paving the way for its availability in Ireland by April.

The regulator announced the application could be processed more quickly than usual as the company had already been submitting data on a rolling basis.

The EU has procured 200 million doses of the vaccine with the option to buy 200 million more, putting Ireland in line for roughly 2.2 million doses.

As the vaccine requires only a single dose and can be stored in normal refrigerators, it is seen as a potential game-changer for vaccination campaigns.

Trials show the vaccine has a 72 per cent efficacy in preventing mild to moderate Covid-19 infections and 85 per cent protection against severe illness.

The Cabinet was also updated on Tuesday on two further Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax and Valneva. The Valneva vaccine has a long shelf life and might find use as a booster shot.

Pace of rollout

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan raised questions during the meeting about the pace of the State’s vaccination rollout.

Mr Varadkar, sources said, asked why some vaccine doses were being held in stock when the stated plan was to distribute them as soon as they arrived. Sources told The Irish Times that some Moderna stock was held in reserve as the HSE changed its plans in light of a decision to give only mRNA vaccines to those over 70. Some 8,000 Moderna vaccines will be distributed later this week to GP clinics that may be hard to reach. This vaccine has a longer shelf life. A buffer of stock is being held back for future second doses.

Meanwhile, Mr Ryan asked why it would take three weeks to vaccinate people aged over 85, the process which began this week, and if this could be speeded up.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is said to have expressed confidence during the meeting that up to 1.2 million vaccine doses would be available in this quarter and 4 million-4.5 million doses in the next.

Quarantine

Separately, there will be a short incorporeal meeting of the Cabinet on Wednesday morning to finalise the Bill to introduce mandatory quarantine for passengers coming in from 20 countries with a high incidence of new variants of the virus.

Mr Donnelly brought the text of the draft Health Amendment Bill to Cabinet on Tuesday but it is understood there were disagreements on the issue of exemptions.

A Government spokesman said on Tuesday evening that the remaining issues were minor and it was a question of “fine-tuning” a complex piece of legislation.

A further 33 deaths of Covid-19 patients were reported on Tuesday. This brings to 3,980 the total number of Covid-19 deaths in the pandemic.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) also reported 744 new confirmed cases of the disease, bringing the total to 211,113.

Daily Covid-19 cases could drop to 100-300 by mid-March with about 60 patients needing critical care at the same time, the Government has been told. In a letter to Mr Donnelly, deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the incidence of disease was falling across most age groups and mortality may now be stabilising.

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