Plans to speed up the rollout of Covid vaccines to the under-50s are to be discussed by Ministers this week as health officials wrestle with the latest revisions to the State’s vaccination programme.
This is expected to be the busiest week yet for the programme, with 220,000-240,000 jabs scheduled.
However, changes to restrictions on the use of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, alongside fluctuating delivery schedules, have presented Ministers with a choice of accelerating the programme for under-50s or potentially having hundreds of thousands of unused doses by mid-summer.
On Sunday, HSE chief executive Paul Reid warned that if people in their 50s were still waiting for vaccines while those in their 30s were receiving them, it would not be good from a public health perspective.
The Irish Times reports that HSE officials are working on a revised vaccination schedule and a memo on the programme is expected to be discussed at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
A key issue will be maintaining momentum to reach the target of more than 80 per cent of adults receiving or being offered a first dose by the end of June.
The National Immunisation Advisory Council (Niac) has essentially advised that the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines be used for people over 50.
One question for Ministers is whether to use stocks of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca to vaccinate over-50s now. Such an approach could leave the HSE with hundreds of thousands of doses of unused AstraZeneca vaccines later in the summer, when large shipments are due, because of the age restriction.
Applications for vaccination will be accepted from people in their 50s for the first time on Tuesday.
The HSE said it expected to have given 30 per cent of the population a first vaccine dose by the end of this weekend.
A record 45,000 vaccines were administered across the country on Friday.
The latest HSE figures show it was made up of 33,000 first doses and 12,000 second doses.