The HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry has confirmed that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee's (NIAC) advice is that the age limit for AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines can be reduced from 50 years to 40 years.
Dr Henry told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show that NIAC had sent new advice to the Government.
“We received some information over the weekend indicating the line of thinking of NIAC as it was relayed by the CMO to the Minister for Health. That certainly shows that NIAC certainly considered the administration of these vector vaccines – you know AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson – to 40 to 49-year-olds with some conditions attached to that.”
The recommended conditions would include ensuring that people have full information about any potential risks and ensuring the two vaccines could be administered to younger people at a quicker pace than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, he said.
“We need to go through that information ourselves and think, how do we translate that information and those requirements into a mass vaccination programme where we can do this at pace.
"We wanted something, not just that is clinically sensible but also something we can implement at pace and with safety to all those target populations.
“So, we have received that information, we have to go through it with our vaccination teams in the centre and decide how can we implement this speedily and how can we implement it among those target groups in a way that ensures we are giving the vaccine safely with full information to patients.”
Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency has now said the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can be stored for 31 days after being thawed instead of just five.
This vaccine is by far the most commonly used in Ireland. This decision could pave the way for its use in pharmacies. Until now the HSE had said it was unsure how the unstable vaccine could be delivered and stored to pharmacies.
It could also open the door to more GPs getting involved in the vaccine roll-out for vulnerable people in Group 7, as they can more easily store the vaccines for use with a smaller group of people.
The decision, based on additional stability data submitted to the EMA, means the unopened thawed vials of vaccine can be stored in a normal fridge at 2-8°C for one month.
An EMA spokesperson said: “Increased flexibility in the storage and handling of the vaccine is expected to have a significant impact on planning and logistics of vaccine roll-out in EU Member States.”