By James Ward and Cate McCurry, PA
Changes to advice on Ireland's Covid vaccine rollout could see people under 50 moved up the queue, the Dáil has heard.
Government this week signed off on a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Council (NIAC) that the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson jabs be given to over-50s only.
The HSE is to make adjustments to the rollout plans based on this advice in the coming days, the Taoiseach told the Dáil on Wednesday.
The new advice presents a logistical problem, because the vast majority of the J&J vaccines are due at the end of June, by which point the 50 to 59 age cohort should already be vaccinated.
Raising the issue during Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday, Labour’s Alan Kelly queried if this meant younger people would move up the queue.
He said: “How are you going to ensure that the Janssen vaccine is used for 50 and 59-year-olds without skipping that cohort, and going down to younger cohorts, and then coming back to them?
“Is that being considered, or what is the plan?
“Because logistically, it’s very difficult to see how it can work without doing so.
“That’s coming in late June, and all people from 50 to 59 should have their first vaccination by then.”
The Taoiseach responded: “In terms of the operational logistics, in terms of age cohorts, the HSE is working through that.
“It’s very clear that we’re going to have to get moving and get vaccinating with available vaccines as they come in.”
He added: “The HSE will now take a number of days to go through the advice from NIAC in respect of AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson, to work that into planning.
“They’ll be coming back with a revised approach, following the advice from NIAC which is understandable.”
Mr Kelly also said he had noticed a “change in language” around vaccine targets since the NIAC advice was confirmed.
Questions have arisen over the Government’s target of vaccinating 82 per cent of the population by June.
Responding, Mr Martin said: “The objective is to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can, notwithstanding all of the obstacles that have arisen, to keep close to those targets by the end of June.”
Earlier, the Taoiseach said Ireland will be in a “very good position by June” when asked about the vaccination targets.
He said the Government is “still pursuing that target”. The vaccine programme will be key to reopening society, he said.
As of Monday, 1,417,942 doses of Covid-19 vaccines had been administered in Ireland.
To date, Ireland has received 1,146,600 Pfizer jabs, 391,200 AstraZeneca vaccines, 163,200 Moderna doses and 14,400 Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines this year.
Around 50 per cent of Moderna vaccines are held back for second doses.
About 95 per cent of available vaccines are administered within seven days of arrival in Ireland.
A Cabinet sub-committee is meeting on Wednesday to consider what restrictions can be eased next month.
They will receive advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), before making a recommendation to the whole Cabinet on Thursday, ahead of an official announcement later in the evening.