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Dr Fiona Moynihan administering the Moderna to GPs at the National Ambulance Service HQ last month. Sam Boal/

'Bear with us': HSE deals with rollout issues as Taoiseach pledges vaccination of over-70s will begin on time

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee has recommended that people aged 70 and over should receive mRNA vaccines.

LAST UPDATE | 4 Feb 2021

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE of the HSE urged the public to “bear with” the organisation as it responds to issues with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan.

Paul Reid today said the HSE has “always been clear that the Covid-19 vaccine rollout will have many twists and turns” in the first quarter of this year.

His remarks followed a recommendation by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) that people aged 70 and over should only receive mRNA vaccines – from Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna – where possible.

“So far we’ve met all challenges in a safe, effective, secure and timely manner. Our plan is to meet the latest changing requirements in the same way. Bear with us for now,” Reid tweeted this morning.

At a briefing of the health service this afternoon, Reid that the health service was now working through operational changes to re-adjust the country’s vaccine plan, and would present details on this to the government’s vaccine taskforce shortly.

Latest figures show that 219,200 coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered so far in Ireland. The figure is made up of 152,200 first doses and 77,000 second doses.

Reid said the aim is still to vaccinate all over 70s by the end of March – starting in mid February – with expected deliveries of 40,000 doses per week from Pfizer and 10,000 doses per week from Moderna.

He said the next 48 hours will be spent reorganising and realigning how best to deliver the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to the over 70s with the agreement of GPs given the AstraZeneca vaccine will not be used for this cohort of the population.

Reid said there are some logistics to work out such as transportation and on-site storage and this phase of the rollout is now likely to involve more mass vaccination centres and smaller ‘GP hubs’, bringing a number of doctors’ surgeries together. 

Speaking in the Dáil this morning, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar acknowledged that the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines to people over 70 “may well be slower” than originally planned.

Varadkar said he could not give exact dates for the new roll out schedule, but confirmed it would take longer than initially envisaged.

“The same number of vaccines will still be given,” he said, but added that there will need to be some changes as to what groups are vaccinated, and in what order.

“For those over 70 the rollout may be slower, but for healthcare workers it may be faster” 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has also said that the HSE need to “work out” the implications of a changed recommendation but that there will be no delay in starting to vaccinate over 70s.

Over-70s are the next cohort in line to be vaccinated after the completion of the first two priority groups; healthcare workers and those in care homes. 

Martin told The Neil Prendeville Show on RedFM, that the vaccination of over-70s is scheduled to begin in less than two weeks.

The HSE and the High-Level Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination are to continue talks today following NIAC’s recommendation about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly signed the authorisation for use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Ireland this morning, with the country is expected to receive much higher volumes of the vaccine.

The HSE has said the mRNA vaccine is “preferential” for older people, based on current evidence of the efficacy of this type of vaccine against Covid-19.

NIAC yesterday said that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were “associated with higher overall protection which supports the preference to use them in those at highest risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19″.

Chair of NIAC, Professor Karina Butler, today told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the group never considered advising against the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, adding that it is safe.

She also said that Ireland needs all three vaccines, stating: “Our goal is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible because that will bring up the level of protection in the community that may actually stop transmission of this virus from person to person.” 

- With reporting from Adam Daly, Stephen McDermott and Michelle Hennessy

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