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Gap between AstraZeneca doses can be reduced from twelve weeks to eight, NIAC advises

Changes to how the vaccine is used will be contingent on receiving supply.

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THE GAP BETWEEN two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine can be reduced from 12 weeks to eight, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) has advised.

New advice from NIAC details that the two doses can be administered eight weeks apart.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has written to the HSE following the NIAC recommendation.

NIAC said last week that it would be continuing to review the 12 week gap between the doses in the context of the Delta variant (the variant first identified in India).

In a letter to Holohan, NIAC noted the UK’s decision to reduce the interval between the doses.

The Labour party is calling on the government for clarity about whether the shorter interval will be implemented.

In a statement this evening, Labour party leader Alan Kelly said it is a “welcome development from NIAC but we need clarity on whether the shorter 8 week gap between doses will now be implemented”.

“I raised the issue twice at Leader’s Questions recently as there is significant public concern about the 12 week wait, and I’d been contacted by so many in the 60-69 age cohort worried about the emerging risk from the new Delta variant,” Kelly said.

“With this clear recommendation from NPHET and NIAC we need clarity from the Minister for Health if he will act to implement this new advice.”

Public health officials have identified 115 cases of the Delta variant in Ireland to date, an increase since 97 last Friday.

In his letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donelly last week, Dr Holohan pointed to the transmissibility and impact of new variants, including the Delta variant, as a risk factor in our experience of the pandemic moving forward.

“The epidemiological picture gives a broadly optimistic outlook in relation to the disease, but we remain vulnerable in the coming weeks as a large proportion of the population is not yet protected by vaccination,” Dr Holohan wrote.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is not currently recommended for use in people under the age of 50 in Ireland because of a rare risk of blood clots, which is higher in younger people.

“If you are under 50 and have already had the vaccine, there is no need to worry. You will be protected against Covid-19. You should get your 2nd dose 12 weeks after your 1st dose,” the current HSE guidance states.

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“The risk of illness if you get Covid-19 is much higher than any risks associated with the vaccine.”

Changes to the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine are contingent upon supply, which has experienced difficulties.

Earlier this week, HSE Chief Clinical Officer Colm Henry said that “we’ve been pushed one side to another, buffeted by the supplies right from the beginning”.

“The one constant, the Pfizer vaccine schedule, the supplies have been remarkably constant, and yet between AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, we’ve received last minute changes of deliveries, sometimes deliveries we anticipate for one month being pushed to the end of the month,” he said.

As of 11 May – the last update on the Covid-19 hub prior to the ransomware attack on the HSE – 553,304 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been administered in Ireland.

With reporting by Cónal Thomas

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