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Tánaiste says we'll know in coming days whether June vaccine target can still be met

The HSE is now assessing the impact of NIAC’s advice that the AstraZeneca vaccine should only be given to those over 60.

Image: Sam Boal

THE TÁNAISTE HAS said the government will be able to say “over the next couple of days” whether the target of giving 80% of the adult population at least one vaccine dose by the end of June can still be met.

Yesterday the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) recommended that the AstraZeneca vaccine should only be given to people aged over 60, following reports of serious but rare blood clotting events. Officials have said it is estimated that these events occur in 4-10 cases in every million dose administered.

The HSE has cancelled all AstraZeneca vaccine appointments that were scheduled for today and is assessing the impact of this change in guidance.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Leo Varadkar said the HSE had done “a great job of pivoting” a number of times on foot of  previous changes to advice from NIAC.

He said there are over half a million people in Ireland who are over 60 who have yet to be vaccinated and there are also people who will be due to receive their second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, so the health service “will make good use of the stock that’s coming in”.

“We will need to do some rescheduling, re-profiling and we won’t do 180,000 [doses] this week. We might be able to catch up on that in the next couple of weeks,” he said.

He said it is “a worry” that people who are offered the AstraZeneca vaccine may choose not to accept it now.

“What’s what’s going to happen is people will be offered their vaccine, they’ll be able to talk to their doctor or nurse or healthcare professional about it,” he said.

Certainly, me speaking as as a healthcare professional as well as a politician, I’d have no hesitation recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 60 because the risk of getting this very rare blood clotting disorder – which is probably treatable – is minuscule compared to the risk of getting Covid and getting very sick or dying from that. So the balance of risk is much more in favour of accepting the vaccine than than refusing it. And that’s the case with almost any medicine.

The Tánaiste said he would “absolutely” take the Astrazeneca vaccine himself.

Varadkar said the four vaccines licensed for use in Ireland – from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen (J&J) – are all highly effective against severe illness and are safe.

“Vaccines are medicines and all medicines have side effects,” he said.

“Some are common and mild, some are rare and serious and this side effect does appear to be rare, maybe as few as four cases in a million, one in four causing death. And it does appear that it’s actually treatable.”

He said it may be the case that at a later stage NIAC will be able to widen out the recommendation again.

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