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10,000 people with underlying health conditions set to receive vaccine next week

Officials have said the shortfall in AstraZeneca deliveries had a significant impact last week.

Updated Mar 4th 2021, 5:34 PM

PEOPLE WHO HAVE conditions that put them at risk of severe Covid-19 disease and who are aged 16-69 will begin to receive their vaccines from next week.

Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer, said today that the HSE has written to hospitals giving them “a pretty tight deadline” to identify as many of these patients as possible. 

He said GPs and advocacy groups will also help to identify patients.

“It is tricky, because there are so many patient groups and we don’t have a national disease register where we can push a button that gives us the name of everybody who has a particular disease in Ireland,” he said.

He said many of these people will receive their vaccines in hospital settings but others may go to a GP practice and some may be identified through patient groups. 

Henry said that identifying people in this category will likely take place “right through the month of March” and that the number of people involved is “in the order of 60,000″.

It is planned that 10,000 people in this group (cohort 4) will receive a vaccine next week and that those receiving it next week will receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Department of Health had previously said that a “small number” of people in group 4 would be prioritised to receive one of the two mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna), provided this does not significantly delay vaccinations. 

Speaking today however, Henry said that prioritising the two MRNA vaccines for this group would result in a delay in completing the vaccination of older age groups. 

The biggest risk is older people and we have to get the mRNA vaccine to older people and complete that, and the earliest we will have completed that first dose is mid-April. So rather than see other groups wait mid-April to get a first dose we made a decision, as was allowed for in the NIAC document, with giving the AstraZeneca dose earlier than they would have got an mRNA vaccine.

AstraZeneca is only approved for use in those aged over 18, so it is likely that those aged 16 or 17 in group 4 will have to wait until the older groups are completed. 

Delivery

Speaking to the Dáil earlier, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly acknowledged that there have been issues around supply, adding that he remains concerned about AstraZeneca’s ability to deliver. 

His department released figures today outlining the number of vaccines delivered by each of the manufacturers so far:

The department said vaccine deliveries for the month of March are still being finalised. Advance planning for April, May and June shows Ireland receiving more than one million doses per month in advance purchase agreements.

More than half of the supplies in the second quarter (54%) will come from Pfizer, 10% will be Moderna vaccine doses, 21% will come from AstraZeneca and 15% will be delivered by Janssen, if this vaccine is approved by the European regulator. 

The government now has advanced purchased contracts for more than 10 million doses, the minister said today.

He also confirmed that Ireland will be sharing its vaccines under the Covax programme, stating that it is important that vaccinations are rolled out globally.

As the vaccination ramps up, the health minister said we have “genuine cause for optimism”. From April, vaccinations should hit one million each month, he said.

As progress is made into the summer, Donnelly said he is “confident there are better days ahead”.

At today’s HSE briefing, CEO Paul Reid said the shortfall in vaccine deliveries from AstraZeneca had a “significant operational impact” last week. It is expected that supplies will also be reduced this week and next week, but that this will be balanced out with increased deliveries at a later date. 

Reid said there had been some issues with deliveries of the two mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) from the health service’s cold chain last week to GPs. 

He said these issues are being worked through this week to ensure these practices receive adequate supplies. 

Reid also confirmed that arrangements have been finalised with the National Ambulance Service to ensure people who are housebound can still receive a vaccine. 

Approximately 3% of the population has been fully vaccinated and 6% have received at least one dose.

Almost 63,000 people in longterm residential care have been fully vaccinated and almosy 80,000 frontline healthcare workers have received both doses. 

It is expected that the 500,000th dose will be administered over the next week.

Family carers

During Leaders’ Questions, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty asked if the government had asked for NIAC to assess if family carers should be moved up the vaccine list.

Tánaiste Leo Vardakar said the over 85s will be vaccinated by the weekend, stating that the 100,000 target was not reached last week due to 25,000 AstraZenaca doses not arriving at the last minute.

Varadkar told Doherty that NIAC advises on the priority approach, but confirmed the government has asked it to look at moving family carers higher up the list. 

However, he said this will only be done when healthcare workers, the elderly, and those with medical conditions are vaccinated.

He accused Doherty of playing politics with the issue, stating that when Sinn Féin asks for one cohort to be moved up the list, they don’t specify what group should be moved down.

People Before Profit’s newest member, Paul Murphy asked Varadkar about meat plant workers, stating that since the onset of this pandemic they have been treated appallingly. 

He accused the government of appeasing beef barons in the country, stating that there are now 34 active Covid outbreaks in 56 meat plants in Ireland. 

Varadkar said it was a “populist” conspiracy theory that those in government are protecting beef barons, stating that he has never met a beef baron or knows what one looks like. 

Junior Minister Mary Butler also told the Dáil today that progress is being made in residential care settings, stating that as of 19 February, cases in these settings had reduced by half, stating that the majority of cases are staff members rather than residents.

Hospitalisations

Currently, there are 461 patients with Covid-19 in Irish hospitals, including 107 patients in intensive care, as of 8am this morning, continuing a downward trend. 

27 new Covid-19 patients were admitted to hospital in the past 24 hours, and 47 were discharged. 

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital has also fallen significantly since a peak of 2,020 cases in mid-January.

The number of people receiving care in an ICU has also steadily fallen in recent weeks, with 107 patients in intensive care this morning. 

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Six people were admitted to ICU in the past 24 hours and nine have been discharged. 

This is the lowest number of patients in ICU since 8 January, when there were also 107 patients in ICU with Covid-19. 

Health officials yesterday confirmed that a further 25 people with Covid-19 died in Ireland. 

The total number of people with the virus who have died in Ireland now stands at 4,357. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team also said that 566 new cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed, bringing the total to 221,189. 

In a statement last night, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: “Through the hard work and sacrifice of the vast majority of people, key disease indicators continue on a positive trajectory.”

However, Dr Glynn added that outbreaks are still happening in the community, “including those linked to extended families, workplaces and funerals”. 

“We need to keep our guard against the B117 variant of Covid-19, which we know is dominant in Ireland at present and highly transmissible,” Dr Glynn said. 

“Our willingness to stick with the public health advice in our daily routine has brought us the progress that we can see today. Together, through staying at home as much as possible, social distancing, hand washing and wearing face coverings, we can continue to drive down the spread of Covid-19,” he said. 

- With reporting by Christina Finn, Rónán Duffy and Michelle Hennessy.

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