The head of the HSE has defended the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and stressed that any failure to meet targets stems from vaccine supply issues rather than their administration by the health service.
HSE chief Paul Reid was speaking about missed vaccination targets amid further confirmation of supply issues with the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
The HSE missed a target to vaccinate more than 72,000 people over the age of 85 by today, having also missed other vaccine targets in recent weeks.
In recent days, Taoiseach Micheál Martin sounded caution over meeting vaccine targets for the first quarter of the year in light of supply issues.
Over the weekend, GPs were also advised of a further shortfall in supplies in the coming weeks following a ‘reprofiling’ of Moderna deliveries.
The health service also indicated that the shortfall will be made up in a few weeks and that there would be a significant ramp-up in vaccine delivery in April.
Today, Mr Reid told RTÉ radio that 95% of all over 85s had been vaccinated and that the remaining 5% would be completed this week.
“We have 95% of the 72,500 over 85s completed. There is a small number to be completed next week. It was originally about 65 practices and it’s down to about 30 practices now,” he said, adding that across these practices, 500 patients in this age group would receive their vaccine this week, as well as other housebound patients.
Mr Reid pointed out that half a million vaccine doses had been administered to date and that the HSE was operating at a “tight efficiency level” and was not to blame for “significant issues” with vaccine supplies.
The delivery of Moderna vaccines had been “rescheduled slightly” while AstraZeneca had given reassurances that it would address recent supply issues and deliver 377,000 doses in the first quarter as ordered, he said.
“I think the real issue is missed commitments on delivery rather than missed targets delivered by ourselves, the HSE,” Mr Reid said, adding that the three vaccine suppliers had given assurances that they would deliver 1.2m doses by the end of the first quarter.
The HSE, he said, had already started vaccinating the 80 to 84 age group and would also start vaccinating people who are between the age of 16 and 69 and medically vulnerable from this week.
“We are working through a clear list of key chronic illnesses, kidney, cancer, lung, neurology, and obesity,” he said, estimating that 150,000 people with an underlying condition fell into this category of which 10,000 would receive a vaccine this week.
Separately, the HSE national lead for testing and tracing, Niamh O'Beirne, expressed concern that close contacts in households had doubled since December, increasing the current risk of contracting Covid-19.
“What we have seen is a change in the close contact positivity in households and that has increased quite significantly,” Ms O’Beirne told RTÉ radio.
Circumstances that were coming up through contact tracing included people carpooling for work, sharing space when living together, funerals, and other social gatherings and certain workplaces.
Ms O’Beirne said, however, that since the reopening of more schools last week, the early indications were that infection levels were low.
A total of 23 primary schools requested mass testing for Covid-19 last week, but positivity levels were “very low”, she said, adding that the situation would continue to be watched “very carefully”.
A statement from the HSE said: "Over 1,300 GP practices involving more than 3,000 GPs have received their first delivery of mRNA vaccines. This has ensured that the vast majority of 72,000 over 85-year-olds have now been administered with their first dose and GPs have already vaccinated a significant number of those in the 80 to 84 age cohort.
"Next week a further 37,000 doses of mRNA vaccine is being distributed. A very small number of practices, less than 30, are due to receive their first delivery next week (starting tomorrow Monday, 8th) for their over 85s.
"The vaccination programme is limited internationally by the supply of vaccine and our programme to date has ensured that all available vaccine is distributed and administered as quickly as possible."