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Six months into 2021, how close is Ireland to vaccinating 80% of the population?

This week marked the six-month mark in the vaccine rollout.

File photo
File photo

THIS WEEK MARKED six months into Ireland’s vaccine rollout, which started late last year at the beginning of the country’s third lockdown.

Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have become familiar names over the past half-year, but although millions have been vaccinated, the rollout hasn’t come without its issues.

Supply problems and concerns about the vaccines themselves have both been speed bumps over the past six months that have slowed the pace of the rollout at times.

However, the race is now on to get as many people vaccinated as possible before the Delta variant takes hold in Ireland.

The government had previously set a target of giving 80% of adults in Ireland at least a first dose by July, though they acknowledged in May that there would be delays in reaching this figure. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting closer.

Let’s take a look at our progress to date.

Where are we now?

The HSE provides granular detail on the progress of the rollout, allowing it to be tracked in a reasonably precise way.

However, while the crippling cyberattack on the health service’s computer systems didn’t impact the vaccine rollout, it has impacted the publication of data relating to it.

Yesterday, for the first time in seven weeks, the HSE finally published data again on the number of vaccines being administered. That data showed that as of Tuesday, a total of 4,109,474 doses had been administered to date in Ireland.

That’s made up of nearly 2.5 million first doses, over 1.5 million second doses, and about 72,000 single doses (i.e. the Johnson & Johnson vaccine).

That means that 62.5% of the eligible population has had at least one dose of a vaccine, and 42.61% of people are fully vaccinated.

The original target was to have 4.5 million doses administered by Wednesday, the end of the second quarter of 2021 – so we’re still about 390,000 doses behind that, according to official figures.

But on average, roughly 50,000 doses were administered every day over the past week.

That compares to an average of over 38,000 doses administered per day in the week between 5 May and 11 May, as calculated by The Journal, so the pace has picked up in recent weeks.

Before the HSE cyberattack, data published by the health service allowed forecasts to be made as to when Ireland would hit the crucial 80% mark – which experts say is the minimum level required for herd immunity.

Using data from before 11 May, The Journal previously predicted that just short of 70% of Ireland’s population would be vaccinated with a first dose before the end of June.

But the current figure is slightly behind that target.

That is primarily due to supply: until now, AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines should not be used in the under-50s because of a recommendation by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).

Consequently, supplies in younger age groups were limited to just Pfizer and Moderna vaccines when the time to vaccinate them arrived, resulting in a bit of a slowdown.

However, the current percentage could actually be closer to 70% than available figures suggest, because data on how many people GPs have vaccinated is slow to come through.

Picking up the pace

If the rollout picks up pace, as expected if AstraZeneca and Janssen are approved for use in under 50s, the 80% target will almost certainly be met before the end of July, perhaps even by mid-July.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin previously said that the HSE aimed to have 70% of the population fully vaccinated by the end of July.

On Tuesday, Brian MacCraith, head of the High-Level Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination, said on that the task force is “getting as many jabs in veins as quickly as we can”.

“We set it as a mantra for the task force and the HSE see that the only thing that would limit us in all of this was supply of vaccines,” he said.

McCraith also explained that of the vaccines that are delivered into Ireland, the percentage which are administered is constantly somewhere in the mid-90s.

The work is done by staff at 40 vaccination centres across the country, as well as GPs and pharmacies, the latter of which can now administer the single-dose Janssen vaccine to people aged 50 and over.

helix 803 Source: Sam Boal

Recent figures show that most vaccines administered in Ireland to date have been Pfizer-BioNTech, at two-thirds (66.8%) of all doses. AstraZeneca follows in second at 22.4% of all doses administered to date.

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Moderna makes up 9% of all doses administered, while Janssen makes up 1.8% of all doses.

The HSE said that these figures may be slightly lower than actual figures as they don’t include jabs given by pharmacies, and the health service is still uploading data on GP vaccinations since last month’s cyberattack.

The HSE used to publish daily figures with breakdowns of doses and cohorts, which resumed again yesterday. Until then, updates were only provided once or twice a week.

It should also be noted that the recorded figures will always be slightly below actual figures, due to a lag in a small number of cases between the actual administering of vaccines and the record of their administration being uploaded onto the HSE’s systems.

Over the course of the next three months, 2 million doses of AstraZeneca are set to be delivered into Ireland, along with nearly 1 million Janssen doses.

Initially, it was expected that the pace of the vaccine rollout would fall as the under 40s – who make up a sizeable portion of the adult population – were vaccinated, because they could only be given Pfizer or Moderna.

Last month, health officials noted that those in their 20s would likely not be fully vaccinated until September.

However, the drop-off in the number of doses administered will not be as sharp if all four vaccines are available to younger adults.

The gap between doses for the AstraZeneca jab is also set to shorten from eight to four weeks, which should further accelerate the rate at which people are fully vaccinated.

Earlier this month, there were nearly half a million people waiting for their second AstraZeneca dose, which the HSE has promised they will receive by 19 July.

Yesterday, it was announced that people aged 30-34 can register for their vaccine next week.

This is the second-to-last cohort to begin registration. After those in the 25-34 age group, the final cohort of those aged 16-24 will be registered and vaccinated, which will likely begin by the end of the summer.

Contains reporting by Nicky Ryan.

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