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No plans to change vaccine rollout to prioritise younger cohorts, says Health Minister

Donnelly said he asked about changing the plan due to a previous NIAC reccommendation.

Image: RollingNews.ie

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly says that there are currently no plans to change the Covid-19 vaccine rollout to inoculate younger cohorts first.

It comes after Donnelly asked for an assessment on whether vaccinating younger people earlier would have an impact on the transmission of the virus.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, Donnelly said that he raised the question based on previous advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) around transmission data after vaccination.

Donnelly said he asked the question due to a higher rate of transmission of Covid-19 in the 18 to 24 age cohort. 

“The original NIAC prioritisation included this option for younger people because we do see more transmission amongst younger people… If the data on transmissibility in regard to the vaccines was strong enough, then this was something that should be considered,” said Donnelly.

According to Donnelly, he then contacted Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn, who said that the data was not there to change vaccine rollout plans.

“I got a response from the Deputy CMO who had looked and come back and said no. The data on transmissibility is still emerging and it isn’t at a place yet to warrant that change.”

First doses

Donnelly also said that the Department of Health is looking at the possibility of spacing out the period of time between mRNA vaccine doses, to allow more people to get the first dose of a vaccine.

“We’re looking at the mRNA vaccines and asking the question: ‘if we were to extend the four-week interval to eight weeks or indeed 12 weeks, would that have much of an impact?’”

According to Donnelly, data from the Irish and international vaccination programmes shows that first doses are reducing case numbers and hospitalisations.

Currently, there is no memo being prepared for Tuesday’s cabinet meeting to allow a greater spacing of doses, but Donnelly says that if a recommendation is brought tomorrow, it will be brought to the government.

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According to Donnelly, he has approached Dr Glynn about the proposal, but not NIAC.

“I’ve no doubt he’s [Dr Glynn] already talking to NIAC about it and Dr Glynn and I will be sitting down in the coming days and looking at the various options,” said Donnelly.

Further reopening

When asked about the prospects of a further easing of restrictions into the summer months, Donnelly says there has been no decision made yet, but that Ireland is in a better place now compared to four weeks ago.

“The plan is working. If it continues to work and if we continue to bend down the curve and get these vaccines out, we can be having a very, very positive, encouraging conversation about the summer.”

Currently, considerations for the start of May include a full reopening of construction, non-essential retail, personal services and religious services. Beyond that, Donnelly did not have advice from NPHET about the return of intercounty travel or indoor dining.

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