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Taoiseach says young people should be vaccinated ‘more quickly’ with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson

The Taoiseach said it is positive that the Delta variant is not having the same impact on hospitalisations in Portugal as other variants.

Image: Sasko Lazarov

THE ASTRAZENECA AND Johnson & Johnson vaccines should be reconsidered for younger age groups to fight the spread of the Delta variant, the Taoiseach has said.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is to consult with the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) on the issue, which previously had advised they not be given to people under 50 over concerns around rare incidents of blood clotting.

Speaking at a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, Micheál Martin said the “balance of risk” had changed due to the Delta variant.

He told reporters: “That would really broaden the portfolio of vaccines available for July and August.

“I think the balance of risk has changed. Therefore, that’s something that would be considered by the immunisation advisors to Government, in terms of making sure that we can protect people against the Delta variant.”

He added: “I think that’s the most practical exercise that’s under way at the moment, the consideration by the CMO and NIAC of whether we can change the age restriction constraints on the utilisation of Astra Zeneca and Janssen (J&J).”

In April, when he recommendations for AstraZeneca were changed, so the vaccine could only be given only to people aged over 60 after reports of rare blood clotting events emerged, NIAC chair Professor Karina Butler said that someone aged 60-64 was 85 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than to have any clotting event from the vaccine – that includes all clotting events reported, and not just the rare thrombosis.

People aged 55-59 are 48 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than get a blood clot.

Among the 20-30 age group, the risk of dying from Covid was twice as likely, than to develop any clotting event related to the AstraZeneca vaccine, with the latter as a worst-case scenario.

At the time, Butler added that these figures only covered the most extreme possible result of contracting Covid-19, death, and didn’t take into account the “burdens” of Covid: the likelihood of getting hospitalised or being admitted to ICU with Covid, or the long-term effects of Covid-19, also known as long Covid.

Speaking after a meeting with other European Council members, the Taoiseach said there seemed to be an “inevitability” that the Delta variant will become the most dominant variant across Europe. 

He added that there was somewhat of a positive input from his Portugese counterpart in relation to the impact the variant was having there, stating that it was not having the same impact on hospitalisation rates or deaths as had been seen with other variants.

Last night, Taoiseach Micheal Martin refused to speculate on plans to ease restrictions amid concerns about the Delta variant, first identified in India.

The Cabinet is to decide next Thursday whether it will give the green light for bars and restaurants to resume indoor hospitality on July 5.

It’s that difficult dilemma of what we see as a very real significant threat, and trying to protect the gains

HSE boss Paul Reid said today that the Taoiseach is facing a difficult decision, and that “nobody would envy Government having to make those choices”.

“Government have to weigh up all those really difficult choices, because people do want the economy continuing to open, people do want society continuing to open, and that’s important for our health service” Reid told RTE’s Morning Ireland.

“But it’s that difficult dilemma of what we see as a very real significant threat and trying to protect the gains.

“It’s really that difficult point we’re at, to bank everything that we have and not lose it again.”

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys has said the Government will have to await recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team before any decision is made.

She said: “I do understand how difficult it is for publicans and for restaurateurs, but it would not be helpful for me to speculate because we need to get the data.

“We need to make a decision next week on this matter.

“But what we want to be sure about is that when the restaurants open up they can stay open.

“Because we don’t want a situation where they open, then they find they have to close down a couple of weeks later, that is not what anybody wants.”

The minister said the Government is examining ways to speed up the vaccination rollout to combat the threat posed by the Delta variant, which is more transmissible than other strains of Covid-19.

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She said a delay to the lifting of restrictions would be beneficial because “it means that more people will be vaccinated”.

She added: “So that reduces the risk, and the Government is looking at ways to speed up the vaccination.
“Apart from shortening the interval between AstraZeneca doses to cover more of the population, we’re going to continue to explore other avenues to see if we can speed up the vaccination programme.

“Because it’s the vaccinations that will give people the protection and that’s very clear from the data, that when you’re vaccinated, you’re in a much, much better position.”

Reid said “every day counts” when it comes to the vaccination programme.

He said: “There’s certainly no doubt, every day counts. If you take yesterday alone, 58,000 vaccines were administered.

He added: “Every 37,000 doses we administer, it’s another 1% of the population.”

With reporting by Christina Finn

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