Ireland remains on track to meet its target of giving four out of five people their first vaccine dose by June, the Government has said.
A double setback to the vaccine rollout earlier this week was tempered by news of around 550,000 extra doses of the Pfizer jab to be delivered in quarter two this year.
News of the extra jabs secured by the European Commission came during Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, and was a “welcome relief” to ministers, sources said.
It came after health experts recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine only be given to people over 60 in Ireland, and delays to the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine over safety concerns.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin told RTÉ: “The commission’s announcement in terms of securing the additional doses puts the puts the programme on track in terms of the key targets.”
Sources said the Government is still hopeful that 80% of the adult population will be vaccinated by June.
A statement issued after Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting said the Government is “recalibrating its approach” to the rollout.
“The immediate focus of the vaccine plan is on those at higher risk and those aged 60 and over, and that rollout is continuing. The remainder of the population in order of age will follow,” the statement said.
“The Government will continue to make every effort to ensure that the vaccine rollout is a successful one so that we can all look forward to the restrictions being lifted over the next while as we look forward to the summer.” There was no mention of the target to vaccinate all adults by September.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told Newstalk: “It’s been a bumpy week, a very busy week. But ultimately where we’re at right now is, we’re still on target.
“The programme will be changing and reprofiling. We’ve done this before and we will do it again before this is all over.
“But we’re working hard to make sure we do the best that we can do, which is get the vaccines out as they come into the country.”
One possibility to speed up the rollout discussed at Cabinet was longer intervals between vaccine doses, with studies showing a high level of immunity after a single dose.
It is understood the issue is under review and no decision has been made.
Mr Donnelly said: “What we’re finding is that these vaccines are so effective that people are getting north of 80% protection from the first dose. So really the focus for the end of June is the first dose.”
The Government is hopeful that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still be given approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) at a meeting next Tuesday.
On Tuesday, J&J delayed distribution of its vaccine to Europe after US regulators recommended a pause to give time to investigate reports of a rare blood-clotting side effect.
The move was made out of an “abundance of caution”, the US Food and Drugs Administration and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said in a joint statement.
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said Ireland’s share of roughly 550,000 doses from the EU will help to make up the shortfall caused by uncertainties over the J&J vaccine.
Ireland had been due to receive 600,000 doses of the single-shot jab by the end of June.
Mr Varadkar tweeted on Wednesday: “What we lost yesterday in terms of Q2 vaccine supply from Janssen we regained today with an extra 550k Pfizer shots.
“Janssen may yet get the green light. Vaccine programme still broadly on track.”
At a press conference on Wednesday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “As we can see with the announcement by Johnson & Johnson yesterday, there are still many factors that can disrupt the planned delivery schedule of vaccines.
“It is therefore important to act swiftly, anticipate and adjust whenever possible.
“We are doing everything in our power to support Europe’s vaccination rollout, also by increasing the supply of vaccines in the coming weeks and months.
“This is why I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer to, once again, speed up the delivery of vaccines.
“Fifty million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines will be delivered in quarter two of this year, starting in April.
“Those 50 million doses were initially foreseen for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2021. Now, they are available in quarter two.”