Varadkar suggests one-dose J&J vaccine would be popular with over-40s

Donnelly confirms Niac advice does not exclude its use for under-50s

Ministers say that while it is recommended that the Johnson and Johnson (pictured above) and AstraZeneca vaccines are given to the over-50s, Niac’s advice to Government does not preclude them being given to the over-40s. (Photograph: Dirk Waem/AFP via Getty Images

Ministers say that while it is recommended that the Johnson and Johnson (pictured above) and AstraZeneca vaccines are given to the over-50s, Niac’s advice to Government does not preclude them being given to the over-40s. (Photograph: Dirk Waem/AFP via Getty Images

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has suggested that the one-dose Johnson & Johnson / Janssen vaccine would be “very popular” with people in their 40s as it would allow them to avail of freedoms open to those who’ve had the jabs after just two weeks.

It comes as Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed that advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) does not exclude the possibility that Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca - the two vaccines currently recommended for inoculating the over-50s - could be used with younger groups.

Mr Donnelly said he did not want to speculate on changes to the rollout being considered due to supply issues and the limited recommended use of the two vaccines due to links to very rare blood clots in younger people.

However, he confirmed that it remains a possibility that the vaccination of people in their 40s will start while those in their 50s are still receiving their jabs.

Deliveries of the one dose Johnson & Johnson are weighted towards the end of the current quarter and there are concerns that the age group it has been recommended for will be vaccinated before they arrive.

The HSE has proposed changes to the vaccination programme to reflect the supply issues which stick to the age-based approach favoured by Government but envisages AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines being offered to the under-50s.

Mr Donnelly is to discuss changes to the vaccination rollout with chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and Niac.

He expects to have proposals to be considered by Government this week and said there’s the possibility he will seek an unscheduled Cabinet meeting to discuss changes to the programme.

He said the approach that has been taken with the rollout is based on safety, vaccinating people in accordance to the risk they face and continuing with the age-based vaccinations but also not having spare doses and using them as soon as possible.

Mr Donnelly suggested last week that the vaccination of over-40s could take place in parallel with the over-50s and he said today this is “absolutely” still a possibility.

He said that at present a number of cohorts are being vaccinated in parallel with second doses being administered to people in long-term residential care and healthcare workers as well as to the over-60s and 70s.

Mr Varadkar said: “Often it has been the case that we have been doing two cohorts at the same time.

“While you’re half-way through or finishing off one group, you move on to the next groups. There’d be nothing strange, I don’t think, about doing that.”

He said the Government wants to avoid “vaccines in fridges”.

Mr Donnelly said that the latest advice given to the Government does not exclude the possibility that Johnson & Johnson and Astra Zeneca could be used for people aged under 50.

“The Niac advice currently says use all of the vaccines for people 50 and over... But it also says where it is appropriate to do so, that the vaccines [Astra Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson] could be used with younger groups.

“If you look around Europe you’ll see quite a lot of different approaches have been taken by the different governments advised by their own regulators.

“But what I want to do rather than speculating on what we may or may not do what I want to do this week is consult with the Chief Medical Officer, consult with Niac, and discuss the proposal put forward by the HSE and then bring the recommendation to Government.”

Both Mr Donnelly and Mr Varadkar - who are in their 40s - said they would take any vaccine they are offered including the two currently recommended for the over 50s.

Mr Donnelly said: “I’m waiting my turn and I’ll take whatever I am offered.”

Mr Varadkar said all the vaccines are “close to 100 per cent effective in terms of avoiding serious disease and death and they’re all much safer than the risk of getting Covid so I’d have no hesitation.”

He added: “I actually think for the 40 somethings the offer of a Janssen vaccine might be very popular because it would mean that you would be fully vaccinated only 14 days after one dose and [have] all the vaccine bonus and freedoms that come with it.

“So I don’t think we’ll have any difficulty getting people to accept that.”