By Cate McCurry, PA
A change in guidance on using the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson jabs in younger age cohorts will help speed up the vaccination programme, the Tánaiste has said.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is meeting to consider the use of the vaccines in younger people.
The State’s Covid-19 vaccine advisory group is assessing how a possible change in advice would affect the spread of the virus.
Leo Varadkar said that Niac will make a decision and give advice based on the best medical and scientific data.
“There are some decisions that are more in the political domain than others, and I think that this issue, particularly around the use of medicines and vaccines, is very much in the domain of the experts rather than politicians,” he said on Monday.
“We are not going to be in a position to overrule their advice when it comes to something purely medical and scientific like the use of vaccines.
“We will be guided by what they say.”
Currently, the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson Janssen jabs are recommended for over-50s only due to incidences of rare blood clotting being linked to the vaccines.
The Government would like to see a change in advice so that surplus AstraZeneca vaccines arriving in the next few weeks can be used on younger age groups.
Mr Varadkar said it would be “unfortunate” if hundreds of thousands of vaccines cannot be used.
He added that he would support sending the surplus vaccines to other countries.
“The advantage of being able to use those AZ and Janssen vaccines once we have them – and we’ll have them in a few weeks’ time – is that would allow us to protect more people, more quickly,” Mr Varadkar added.
“If the Delta wave is coming, that makes sense to me.
“It has to be balanced of course with the risk of the very rare blood clot.
“Bear in mind when it comes to Pfizer in young people there’s a very rare heart condition you can get too, so it’s not that any vaccine has no risks of side-effects. They both do.”
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Mr Varadkar also said he will not put pressure on the Niac to confirm its advice before Cabinet meets on Tuesday to decide on the reopening plans for July 5th.
“I believe that when it comes to decisions of the use of medicines and vaccines, it’s what Niac says that matters, these are not political decisions,” he added.
“Of course it would be useful to have that advice for the Cabinet meeting tomorrow but it’s not for me to put pressure or to rush the advice.
“It would be great as it would potentially allow us to speed up and update the vaccine programme, but if they are not able to make a decision, there is good reason for that.”