Government battling to get Covid-19 vaccine programme back on track

Taoiseach to meet the chair of vaccine taskforce as Government hit by further snags to the national inoculation rollout
Government battling to get Covid-19 vaccine programme back on track

Johnson & Johnson has been forced to delay the European rollout of its single-shot vaccine due to clotting fears. Meanwhile, most AstraZeneca clinics in Ireland are cancelled for the rest of the week. File photo

Micheál Martin is to meet the head of the vaccine taskforce this morning as the Government desperately tries to get the Covid-19 vaccine programme back on track.

That programme has suffered a double blow, with setbacks to two crucial vaccines. 

Due to clotting fears, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has been forced to delay its European rollout, and almost all AstraZeneca clinics here are cancelled for the rest of the week.

The Taoiseach and Brian MacCraith, chair of the national vaccine taskforce, will meet this morning to discuss the issue.

Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, said that his department, the vaccine taskforce, and the HSE are working around the clock to produce a new vaccine rollout plan "very shortly". He admitted that to call the latest developments a logistical headache "would certainly be an understatement".

"If it follows through that there are restrictions [on vaccines], there's no question but that would require serious reprofiling of the programme," Mr Donnelly said.

"We've been here before," Mr Donnelley said:  

"We've had quite significant changes from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee [NIAC] in the past, and everyone involved has stepped up to reprofile the system and, critically, to keep the vaccines going out because we need to keep the pace of the vaccine programme."

Mr Donnelly said people with underlying conditions will hear, later this week, what vaccine they will receive. 

The Government is considering extending the time between doses of the Pfizer vaccine in an attempt to address the fallout.

Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, said that his department, the vaccine taskforce, and the HSE are working around the clock to produce a new vaccine rollout plan "very shortly".
Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, said that his department, the vaccine taskforce, and the HSE are working around the clock to produce a new vaccine rollout plan "very shortly".

Much of the 14,000-strong first batch of the single-dose J&J jab was due to arrive this week, to be used in groups such as homeless people, members of the Travelling community, those engaged with drug services, and the Roma community. 

Ireland is expecting 600,000 J&J doses before the end of June.

The pause in its rollout comes just one day after the AstraZeneca vaccine was suspended for the under-60 age group over similar concerns.

Last night, almost all AstraZeneca clinics, except those arranged for certain people over the age of 60, were cancelled for the rest of this week as the HSE tries to reconfigure rollout plans to take into account the latest guidance from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).

Anybody who is due to attend an AstraZeneca clinic, and who is not contacted directly in advance, is advised not to attend. The HSE will run vaccinations by appointment for vulnerable people in cohort 4 of the vaccination programme, and those aged 60-69 in City Hall in Cork on Thursday, and in Killarney on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has "paused" the mandatory hotel quarantine booking system due to the scaling up of the number of countries on the category 2 list, with France, Italy, Turkey, the US, and Canada added last week.

It has led to the website for booking rooms showing there are no available rooms for this weekend.

Mr Donnelly did not say if rooms would be available for people flying home this weekend. He said there are still a number of "walk-ins" — people arriving into Ireland without having booked.

The news comes as 18 additional deaths related to Covid-19 and 358 new cases were reported last night.

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