The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is expected to issue an update today in relation to the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine following meetings with the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and the Health Products Regulatory Authority.
An investigation by the European Medicines Agency concluded that the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots in those who receive it, but that it may be associated with very rare clots in vessels draining blood from the brain.
The EMA said the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risk of side effects but that product information for the vaccine should be updated to include more information on these risks.
The Health Service Executive has around 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in its cold storage facility ready to go.
In addition, it is expecting a delivery of another 9,600 doses from the company before the end of this weekend.
There are also stocks of the vaccine in fridges at certain locations, including Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, where one infectious disease consultant said yesterday that vaccinations with AstraZeneca could be turned on within hours for in-patients and other vulnerable people.
All that is required is the green light from the Minister for Health to the HSE to restart the roll-out.
Before that can happen, however, NPHET, the NIAC and the HPRA have to agree a position, issue and update, and advise the minister, which is expected to happen today.
The HSE has said it will respond quickly to whatever decision is made, but that it could take a few days to get the specific vaccination programmes that were paused last weekend, back up and running.
A Monaghan-based GP said deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines for the over-80s are still restricted for some practices, as shipments from manufacturers continue to be slow.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Illona Duffy said communication on timelines from the HSE had improved.
She said the strong advice and guidance from the EMA in relation to AstraZeneca is welcome and GPs plan to move ahead with the AstraZeneca roll-out.
Consultant Stroke Physician and Clinical Lead on the Irish National Audit of Stroke Professor Joe Harbison has said the AstraZeneca vaccine is “clearly safe”.
Also speaking on Morning Ireland, he said the EMA report stated over 20 million vaccine doses have been given with just 18 cases of this particular clot found, so there is less than one in a million chance of developing a problem.
“The big thing about this is they have identified the issue, and the scale of it and now characterised it and with those circumstances people are very encouraged they can go back and start administering the vaccine again”.
He said he thinks NIAC will give advice if it does not think certain people should get the vaccine and it is probably sensible that someone who has had thrombosis may think about getting a different vaccine.
“But overall remember the risk of clot is not increased by this vaccine.”
The reason there was concern with this clot is that it is uncommon and it occurs in the brain and occasionally results in a stroke, he added.
While it can be associated with stroke in younger people, he said he wanted to emphasise the risks of getting a stroke from Covid-19 is higher than from the vaccine.
He said their findings show that around 1% to 2% of people admitted to hospital with Covid are now suffering a stroke.
“We are also seeing very major strokes occurring in young people with Covid.”
He said it is a “hidden complication” of the virus, which is not publicised much.
Prof Harbison said that a report due to be published will show there were around 30 cases of stroke associated with Covid in Ireland in the first wave of the virus.
“That is in Ireland in the first wave, there were more cases of stroke associated with Covid than there have been in the entire reported planet associated with the vaccine.”
He said with all drugs you weigh benefit versus the risk.
His advice for people after a vaccine is that a mild headache is not uncommon but a severe and progressive one is a warning signal and you should seek medical advice.
Meanwhile, a professor of immunology at Maynooth University has said that low-risk outdoor activities including sport and outdoor socialising should be permitted as there is no evidence these lead to the large scale transmission of the Covid-19 virus.
Prof Paul Moynagh told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne that there is no “zero-risk way” to move forward and that proper risk management combined with rapid antigen testing could allow a prudent reopening of safe activities.
He said that the current lockdown has done as much as it can to achieve lower Covid-19 case numbers and we have to be realistic about how we move forward.
He said the expectation to try to get down to really low numbers “is going to be a major, major challenge”, especially as the weather improves.
Prof Moynagh said all major studies indicated there were no “super-spreading” outdoor events, so therefore limited outdoor sporting activity should be proactively encouraged as well steps taken towards permitting outdoor socialising and outdoor dining.
He said that “anything that gives people hope” and shows we are moving towards reopening is a good thing.
Prof Moynagh said that it is really disappointing that “a year in” to the pandemic there has been no clarity given on the use of rapid antigen testing.
He said “without doubt” we should be using these tests and embracing all the technologies and innovations available to combat the virus.
Prof Moynagh said the frequency of use is key to the success of rapid antigen testing and if used frequently it can pick up cases, especially highly-infectious cases.