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No Johnson & Johnson vaccine decision until next week but Donnelly 'hopes' for all clear

The Health Minister has followed the Tánaiste in saying he hopes all age cohorts will be able to receive the jab.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
Image: Oireachtas.ie

IRELAND’S NATIONAL IMMUNISATION Advisory Committee (NIAC) will not be providing a recommendation on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until next week.  

Speaking in the Dáil today, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the government was “waiting on further advice from NIAC” about the J&J vaccine and that he expects a recommendation on this “early next week”.

He later added that he would hope the vaccine could be used for all vaccination cohorts and age groups. 

“My hope is that Johnson & Johnson would be for all cohorts…. let’s wait to see what NIAC says on that,” he said. 

The single-dose J&J vaccine is seen as key to Ireland’s vaccine effort over the coming months, with over 600,000 doses due here up to the end of the June. 

NIAC is examining the use of the J&J vaccine following a safety review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The EMA said the “overall benefits” of the J&J vaccine outweighs any potential risks, following reports of rare blood clotting events.

Following similar concerns over the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, NIAC subsequently recommended that its use be advised for over-60s only. 

Yesterday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also expressed the government’s hope that J&J could be used for all adult age groups, saying there are sufficient vaccine doses for over-60s. 

The decision by NIAC on the J&J vaccine will also influence a forthcoming decision on whether Ireland will increase the gap between the first and second doses of mRNA vaccines Pfizer and Moderna.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane asked Donnelly about the B1617 variant of Covid-19 first identified in India, seeking information on whether that country should be added to Ireland’s Mandatory Hotel Quarantine list.

Donnelly said he and Deputy CMO Ronan Glynn spoke about the issue yesterday and that a recommendation is expected this week.

“When the Deputy Chief Medical Officer and I spoke on this yesterday the Indian variant had not yet been classified by the multilaterals as a variant of concern, but we know the UK has added it to their list and we’re looking very closely at it,” he said. 

Housebound vaccination programme

Also speaking in the Dáil, Junior Minister in the Department of Health Mary Butler said the HSE will seek to make ‘direct contact’ in the coming days with those who are housebound and who have not received a vaccine. 

She said that there have been 3,500 referrals as part of the housebound vaccination programme but that so far only 1,800 appointments have been offered. 

She said that the National Ambulance Service has been undertaking about 400 appointments each week but that these are complicated by the logistics involved that can require crews at a residence for up to 40 minutes. 

She said it is expected that dose one as part of the housebound vaccination programme will be completed in May and dose two in June. 

“To provide assurance to the individuals and their families who still await vaccination under the programme, the HSE will make direct contact with each of them over the coming days starting today,” she said. 

Speaking about the same issue earlier, Varadkar suggested that GPs and pharmacists might be involved in delivering vaccinations under this programme. 

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“If it’s the case that the National Ambulance Service is being asked to do too much and they are being asked to do a lot, whether it’s pop up testing centres or vaccines in addition to their normal work, perhaps we need to find an alternative,” he said. 

“That could be, for example, asking local GPs to do it in the form of a house call and obviously remunerate them for that. Or we could ask pharmacists to do it, so perhaps if it’s taking this long we need to look up an alternative model to assist the National Ambulance Service so they aren’t asked to do it all on their own.”

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Rónán Duffy

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