Health minister 'seeking clarity' on AstraZeneca vaccine supplies

It follows media reports that supplies were going to be cut even further, which have been dismissed by the pharmaceutical company.
Health minister 'seeking clarity' on AstraZeneca vaccine supplies

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly predicted Ireland will be giving 250,000 doses weekly from April, as a single-dose vaccine from Janssen (J&J) is also expected. Photo: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie

The Health Minister said he is seeking clarity from the AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company following reports on Monday of a possible further cut in supply.

Stephen Donnelly was speaking at a briefing explaining changes to the priority list announced late on Monday.

His comments follow a series of reports and counter-statements this week with the EU indicating to Reuters a further reduction was expected down to just 90m doses in June instead of 300m. AstraZebeca subsequently denied this.

In January, a similar situation did eventually end up with a smaller than originally-agreed deal for the EU from this company.

He said: “We were notified before that deliveries would be down for Quarter 2 by 60%, not 50% as was reported. We will be seeking clarity from the company on this.” 

The minister predicted Ireland will be giving 250,000 doses weekly from April, as a single-dose vaccine from Janssen (J&J) is also expected.

The briefing was also addressed by Professor Karina Butler of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee who said changes announced to the vaccine priority will help those at highest risk avoid severe illness with Covid-19.

She said: “There might be people who still feel left out of the mix. We would like to have everybody vaccinated tomorrow, but that is not possible. Every time we take a group and push them up, then someone else is going down.” 

Prof. Butler said decisions were taken in consultation with clinical experts across a wide range of illnesses.

People now listed in Cohort 4 will begin their vaccination after the over-70s are complete, or possibly in parallel with this group depending on vaccine supply.

This includes people aged 16 – 64 whose health condition means they have the very same risks from Covid-19 as people over 70.

People will be contacted closer to this time either by their healthcare provider if they, for example, are receiving kidney dialysis or by their GP if they are receiving chronic treatment.

Among the people moved up are those with lung, head or neck cancer receiving treatment and all those with advanced cancers.

People with conditions like Cystic Fibrosis have been spilt into very high risk and high risk.

Prof. Butler said she does not like the term ‘priority’ but the harsh reality is there is not yet enough vaccine supply to give it to everyone without such a hierarchy.

She said:

If we were to say vaccinate everyone who carries an inhaler or needs to take paracetamol daily because they have mild rheumatism, there would be no point in priorities.

Asked about family carers, she said: “NIAC will continue to look at the priority for other groups including those working or living in high-risk situations, carers and those who are socially vulnerable or disadvantaged.” 

Emerging evidence from the UK and Israel will feed into these decisions, and also possibly to a decision to allow for wider use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, she said.

She is looking forward to seeing a “vaccine bonus” for people in vulnerable settings like nursing homes, but said it will be up to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre to make these decisions.

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