Elaine Loughlin: Increasing the interval between doses could be the vaccine bonus Stephen Donnelly needs

Extending the interval between vaccine doses to eight or 12 weeks would see 80% of the population receiving their first dose much sooner than expected
Elaine Loughlin: Increasing the interval between doses could be the vaccine bonus Stephen Donnelly needs

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly TD is expecting to receive advise from health officials in the coming days regarding extending the interval between vaccine doses. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

In extending the interval between doses of the Covid vaccine, is Stephen Donnelly simply trying to paper over the cracks in a calamitous vaccination rollout?

Or with more people vaccinated, would the health minister's latest idea give us certainty over the summer?

There is significant enthusiasm within the Government for this proposal.

The vaccine rollout has, in its first four months, been dogged by delays, under-delivery and safety concerns, but the Government has boldly promised to have 80% of the adult population offered their first dose by the end of June.

Having let several other targets slide, Mr Donnelly cannot afford to miss this crucial deadline.

Smart move

Extending the period between vaccines to eight or maybe even 12 weeks would mean this commitment would be met. From that point of view, it must be seen as a smart move from the health minister.

Mr Donnelly also believes his plan is backed up by increasing evidence which shows that tinkering with timelines is a safe option.

The data we are getting back from the vaccination programme in Ireland and from around the world is that even the first dose of the two-dose vaccine is showing absolutely incredible positive success in terms of reduction of cases and hospitalisations," 

Mr Donnelly said.

While Mr Donnelly is still awaiting advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) on the matter, in recent days a number of health experts have come out in support of his plan.

Political bonus

Professor Luke O'Neill said Ireland could reach the pandemic "endgame" sooner than expected if the gap between Pfizer vaccine doses was increased. Looking beyond the data, the Trinity College professor also pointed to the political bonus any extension between doses would bring.

“Micheál Martin might win, basically – can you imagine if by the end of May he meets his 80% target, and that’s four weeks ahead of schedule? That’s a great success – that’s why I suspect they will extend the interval between the two doses," Prof O'Neill told Newstalk.

Immunology professor at Trinity College Dublin Kingston Mills, said it made “absolute sense” to widen the gap between doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.

"I expect the supply of the vaccines to increase significantly in the next couple of months, so we could be in a position to have lots of doses of really highly effective vaccines," he said.

So why wait and not immunise as many people as possible now with a single dose, and then go back and boost those when we have lots more supply of the vaccine?” 

It is expected to be later this week at the earliest before Niac makes any recommendations, but if he pulls it off, a lengthening of the interval could bring a much needed vaccine bonus for the health minister and the Government in general.

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