HSE seeking 'flexibility' to use J&J vaccine in under 50s

HSE seeking 'flexibility' to use J&J vaccine in under 50s

The HSE has asked for “flexibility” to allow the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, also known as the Janssen vaccine, for people aged under 50.Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg Stock Generic

The HSE has asked for “flexibility” to allow the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, also known as the Janssen vaccine, for people aged under 50.

It follows a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) that the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca jabs not be given to people under 50.

An updated vaccination rollout plan, based on this advice, is expected to be announced by the Government shortly.

However, speaking in the Dail later, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said he was unable to give an exact date for the updated plan.

Submission to CMO 

In a submission to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan on Sunday, the HSE made a series of recommendations for the revised plan, including that the rollout continues based on age, from oldest to youngest.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said it was his view that the plan was the “most effective” way to ensure the rollout progresses quickly and safely.

Commenting on the recommendations, he said: “Firstly, that it continues to adhere to the Government’s age-based sequencing policy.

“Secondly, that it maximises the pace of the programme and the safe and effective vaccination of the population.

“Thirdly that it maximises the usage of all available vaccines throughout quarter two.” However, an issue has arisen in relation to the Janssen jab, because the majority of doses are due at the end of June, by which time the majority of people over 50 should have been vaccinated already.

This had led to questions over whether younger people could jump the queue, or if different age cohorts could be vaccinated in parallel with each other.

Mr Reid said: “Obviously, as you look through that plan and you look through the volumes of deliveries that come, certainly the Janssen are backended.

“We can’t have a scenario where we end up progressing through the ages, where we’re in a much younger age group, and still waiting for deliveries to finalise the over 50s.

“So ultimately, it needs some flexibility to utilise those Janssens beyond the age as currently defined for over 50s.” 

However, Mr Reid said the HSE will not progress with such a move unless it is approved by the Government.

“We will not progress in a manner that is beyond Government policy,” he told an HSE briefing on Thursday.

“So if we seek to move beyond that for the utilisation of Janssen vaccines, we would seek the approval of the CMO or indeed Minister of Health to move beyond that.” 

No timeframe on updated plan 

Mr Donnelly was unable to give a timeframe for the updated plan when asked in the Dail on Thursday.

He said: “We need to leave that for a little bit of time. I can’t give you an exact date. I’d very much like to be able to give you an exact date, but soon enough.

“I can’t say it’ll be today or tomorrow but we’re looking at it, and NIAC is looking at it as well.” He also said there was no need to make a decision “imminently”.

“We’ve plenty of vaccines, and plenty of people in the cohorts that are open, to keep going at full tilt, for now,” he said.

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