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Decision on spacing out Pfizer vaccine doses will be made 'within the week', says Donnelly

Spacing out of Pfizer doses was discussed at Cabinet today, but the matter is still under review.

The idea of people under the age 60 being allowed to take the AstraZeneca vaccine if they consent was also discussed by government today.
The idea of people under the age 60 being allowed to take the AstraZeneca vaccine if they consent was also discussed by government today.
Image: Sam Boal

A DECISION ON whether to space out the doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be made within the week, according to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.

Speaking on Newstalk this afternoon, the minister was pushed on whether a decision would be made by Friday, he replied that there would be an answer “within a week”.

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.

A government spokesperson said the spacing out of Pfizer doses was raised and discussed at Cabinet today, but the matter is still under review by the HSE and vaccine task force. 

He said they are still looking at the matter, and that no definitive decision has been reached yet as to what they’ll do. 

The health minister said he discussed the matter with the Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn after Cabinet today.

“The question is: we’re currently at a four-week interval. What happens in terms of the programme, and is there any scientific issues or concerns or considerations about moving from four weeks to eight weeks, or to 12 weeks? We’re looking at all of that right now.”

Government sources said that every effort will be made to push out the doses, with changes to the vaccine rollout to be announced shortly. 

A government spokesperson told reporters there had been three major announcements regarding vaccines today, stating that work is underway to re-calibrate the vaccine programme. He said it was in everyone’s interest to do so sooner rather than later.

While the changes are not being described as a major overhaul, the government is still assessing the lay of the land after significant announcements this week relating to AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine concerns. 

Ireland also got news today that it will receive over 500,000 additional doses of the BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine over the next three months as part of a wider EU agreement. 

It is now expected that Ireland will have between 3.5 and 4.5 million vaccine doses in Q2.

It was also confirmed today by a government spokesperson that the idea of people under the age 60 being allowed to take the AstraZeneca vaccine if they consent had been discussed at government level, but he said no decision had been made on it yet.

Irish health authorities are only recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine for over 60s, with a vaccine booking portal for those aged between 60 and 69 to open tomorrow.

It was confirmed yesterday that Johnson & Johnson is to “proactively delay” the rollout of its Covid-19 vaccine to Europe as US health agencies recommended a precautionary pause in the use of the jab following blood clot concerns.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said it will make a recommendation on the safety of the Johnson & Johnson jab next week.

Ireland had been due over 600,000 doses of the one-shot vaccine in total up to the end of June.

There are now concerns that use of the vaccine could be suspended even further, with the government spokesman conceding that the ultimate impact on the Irish rollout was unknown at this stage.

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The spokesman said there had been “ups and downs” throughout the vaccine roll out, and there was “no doubt about it” that the news about AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson is a “great challenge”. There was some relief when the call arrived during today’s Cabinet meeting that Ireland was to get a delivery of over 500,000 Pfzer doses.

Donnelly said this evening that the State is still on track to meet its target of 80% of all adults receiving the first dose by the end of June.

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