Is the reluctance, to offer people an alternate vaccine for their second dose, driven by supply or by science?

The government should publish its supply forecasts for the coming months for each vaccine currently in use, according to Social Democrats Health Spokesperson Róisín Shortall.

“Previously, the Department of Health published vaccine supply projections, which detailed the expected level of deliveries for the proceeding three months. Regrettably, this practise has always been intermittent, at best.

“The failure to provide regular forecasts means today’s announcement, that serious shortfalls in supply are expected in deliveries of both Astra Zeneca and Janssen, has come as a surprise.

“The timing is especially unfortunate as the government is due to announce it plans for the reopening tomorrow – and it remains unclear if these plans will be impacted by this shortfall.

“There have been long-standing issues with Astra Zeneca – and the State has now joined an EU legal action in relation to the consistent failure of that company to meet its targets.

“However, the news that just 60,000 Jansen doses could be delivered, from a total complement of 470,000, could seriously impact the pace of the vaccination programme – and have consequences for the reopening of society.

“There is a further concern among those who have already received a first dose of Astra Zeneca, especially the 400,000 people in the 60-69 age cohort – who, by virtue of their age, are more vulnerable to this disease and who have yet to be fully vaccinated.

“Currently, the interval between the first and second dose is 12 weeks, but further supply issues could delay this even further. Given the impact of the Indian variant on the efficacy of the vaccine, there had been hopes that this 12-week interval could be reduced.

“In the Dáil today, I asked Health Minister Stephen Donnelly if any consideration had been given to providing those, who have already received a first Astra Zeneca dose, a second dose of an alternate vaccine.

“In response, Mr Donnelly said this would not be possible as all of our vaccine supply has already been committed to the various cohorts.

“This begs a question: is this reluctance, to offer people an alternate vaccine for their second dose, driven by supply or by science? Any advice that Niac has offered the government, in this regard, should be published.

“I also asked Mr Donnelly if any consideration had been given to reducing the 12-week interval, in light of concerns regarding variants.

“If Niac has advised against shortening the 12-week interval, it should also publish this advice – and explain why a shorter interval is now the preferred option in the UK but not here.

“In relation to Janssen, it is now a distinct possibility that hundreds and thousands of vaccines could be delivered in July – at which point, they will be unusable under current Niac guidance. This also needs clarification.

“Given it is now very unlikely that our vaccination targets – 55pc fully vaccinated and 82pc having received their first dose by the end of June – revised targets should also now be published.

“Supply issues are beyond the control of the government, but it is important that contingency plans are put in place, whenever possible, if supply becomes an issue.

“Transparency, about problems as they arise, is also hugely important to maintain public confidence.”

27 May, 2021


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