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Younger with no underlying vulnerabilities may have second Pfizer dose delayed - Varadkar

Varadkar said the issue of spacing out the Pfizer doses is under consideration, but no decision has been taken yet.

Leo Varadkar (file photo)
Leo Varadkar (file photo)
Image: RollingNews.ie

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said younger people with no underlying conditions may have their dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine delayed. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said the issue of spacing out the Pfizer doses is under consideration, but no decision has been taken as yet.

The Tánaiste added that people who received their first vaccine dose will receive the second as planned, regardless of what decision is reached.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said yesterday that the decision on whether to space out the doses will be made within the week.

It would “make sense” to space out the vaccines for those under 60 who are in good health, Varadkar said this morning.

Currently, the interval is 28 days between the first and second Pfizer dose, but some countries have extended it to 12 weeks.

An extension could allow more people to have a first vaccination.

He said we must bear in mind spacing out the doses was not recommended by the actual manufacturer of the vaccine and the clinical trials weren’t done on that basis, “but it is something that can be opened for consideration”.

People who refuse the AstraZeneca vaccine will go to the back of the queue, added Varadkar. 

His comments come after concerns were raised this week by Labour’s Alan Kelly about vaccine hesitancy, with Kelly stating that his office had been inundated with calls from people with concerns about taking the AstraZeneca vaccine in the wake of new recommendations from health officials this week limiting its use to those over 60.

Yesterday, Varadkar said: “We’re on track as well to ease restrictions on the 4th of May so lots of things to be positive about.”

He repeated the statement this morning, adding that the government’s end of June target for vaccine rollout is “as solid as it can be.” 

Speaking about the easing of restrictions he said personal services like hairdressers are due to re-open at some point in May – but added that it may not be at the beginning of the month.

Mandatory hotel quarantine

Speaking about mandatory hotel quarantine (MHQ), Varadkar said the system will no doubt cost the country economically. 

He said since the onset of the debate about hotel quarantine, people “have been far too simplistic” about the establishment of such a system. 

Addressing criticisms after the booking system had to be paused this week due to capacity issues, he said: “It is not as simple as hotel beds.”

A government spokesperson said yesterday that the problems related to staffing the hotels and the services they must provide. 

Mentioning the border with Northern Ireland, Varadkar said “you’re going to see an issue now with people going through Northern Ireland to get around quarantine – it’s illegal, but it’s going to happen”.

Issues are now also arising with people who have medical appointments and citizens who want to get back home to families, he said.

When asked about comments from co-leader of the Social Democrats Roisín Shortall, who said the bar for the appeals process is too high, Varadkar hit out and said “this is the same person who would have said, only a few weeks or a few months ago, that the virus doesn’t know whether your reason for travel is essential or not. So you know, a lot of people are having it both ways on this, they called for mandatory quarantine and now they don’t like the effects of it”.

He said there is conflicting public health advice on mandatory hotel quarantine, but he said the government did sign up for it. 

Varadkar said the country will pay “an economic price for this”.

“We pay the bills in Ireland, because of the goods and services we trade abroad. And if we cut ourselves off for too long, there will be economic consequences and people will feel them, not just in their pockets, but in the quality of their public services and infrastructure.

“And that’s why this policy should not be permanent. One question I often ask people who are particular fans of this policy is what’s the exit strategy, vaccines will never be 100% effective, and the world is full of viruses,” he said, questioning when the call will be made to lift the regime.

Speaking about exempting vaccinated people from quarantine, he said he is in favour of it.

He said he didn’t want to see a “rerun” of the debate around antigen testing, where differing views of public health experts somewhat delayed the rollout of such measures. 

“I think the exit strategy is based on vaccination,” he said.

Minister Simon Coveney was asked today of the Today with Claire Byrne show whether he is against mandatory hotel quarantine. It was widely reported that Coveney was furious when news was first leaked about more countries being added to the list, without his prior knowldege.

“I have, I think, done what I’m supposed to do which is to ask the hard questions, to pose different scenarios that are difficult to manage. Mandatory hotel quarantine is not easy to implement that’s why no other country in the European Union is doing it… I believe that mandatory hotel quarantine is the right thing to do”.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs said the perception that the Department of Health and Stephen Donnelly are responsible for everything in relation to mandatory hotel quarantine is wrong.

Coveney said the Health Minister has the primary department in terms of responsibility for the scheme but that other departments and arms of the State “are very much there” to support the Department of Health.

Coveney said his brother, Patrick, did not consult with him before he tweeted a critical response to the mandatory hotel quarantine. He said he did not agree with his claim but said that he has five brothers and a sister, all of whom have their own independent views and frustrations, adding that he would not be his brother’s keeper.

“I’m certainly not going to be my brother’s keeper on this one”.

Coveney said he wouldn’t be doing what he is doing if he agreed with him.

On the vaccine issue, he said he hoped the over 60s would sign up to get teh AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said that the safest thing by far is to say yes to the offer of a vaccine. Coveney called on people to “trust the system” that he said has been decided upon based on risk.

“The message needs to be very clear. AstraZeneca is safe. And it’s particularly safe for people over the age of 60, in the context of the threats they face from Covid. People should trust the system because the decisions are being made by public health experts, not by politicians, when it comes to who gets what, and when.”

Minister Coveney said people who refuse to take the first vaccine that is offered to them “then you’re essentially putting yourself to the back of the queue until everybody else gets vaccinated which will certainly take quite some time.”

When asked if there is a contingency plan if the over 60s opt not to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, he said he hoped people would trust expert advice and get the vaccine, pointing out that no one can force people to take the vaccine if they choose not to.

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Epidemic

Speaking at a webinar hosted by the Institute of International & European Affairs (IIEA) today, Dr Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said the effectiveness of MHQ on suppression of Covid-19 depends on “the epidemiological situation in the country” in question.

“When people come out of this quarantine, they still have to follow all the measures in the country not to get Covid.”

ECDC guidelines state that the organisation “does not support prioritising travel measures over the public health activities needed in the community such as systematic testing, isolation of cases and contact tracing and quarantine of their contacts”.

In terms of European travel opening up in the coming months, Dr Ammon said: “That will depend on how quickly we can roll out the vaccinations and how effective vaccine protection is in the longer run.”

She said the ECDC is in the process of preparing for various “end stage” scenarios of the pandemic.

Dr Ammon said the most favourable scenario would be where Covid-19 is eradicated but, realistically, the most likely scenario is that the pandemic will become an epidemic “controlled by a high level of vaccination” where countries “have to deal with smaller outbreaks” of the virus.

“The most likely scenario will be the second scenario where it’s endemic, where we have it around, but with a high level of vaccination and with good level of effectiveness of vaccination, we can maintain a normal life.”

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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