Nursing home residents in Ireland may have to wait to get the Pfizer-BionNtech Covid-19 vaccine because of logistics around how it is packaged, it emerged yesterday.
Although they are a high priority group, the vaccine must be kept in batches of 975, which could mean wastage if sent to facilities with only 50 residents.
The difficulty posed by this emerged in the UK's plan for the roll-out of the vaccine from next week after it became the first country to licence the jab.
The go-ahead was given after its independent regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said it had assessed the vaccine data with "meticulous care" and deemed it safe and effective.
Regulators will be asked if it is possible to break down the vaccine, which has to be held at freezing temperatures of minus 70C, into smaller batches to allow for distribution to nursing homes and other facilities.
Around three million doses are due for the Republic spread out over many months.
Northern Ireland is to get around 25,000 doses, enough to immunise around 12,000 people and the aim is to begin to roll it out next week.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Republic is waiting for approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is likely to come before the end of the month.
The logistics around getting the vaccine to nursing home residents is expected to be set out in the action plan being finalised by a task force which will report to the Taoiseach at the end of next week.
Ireland is hoping to get acc- ess to several potential vaccines over the coming months at a cost of around €117.6m.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly indicated they will be distributed free of charge, beginning with the most vulnerable who are due to include healthcare workers.
Mr Martin said yesterday that nine ultra-low refrigeration trucks have been imported for the vaccine roll-out.
They arrived on Tuesday and are currently parked at Citywest in Dublin.
They will be operational from next week and can be used to ferry the vital Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to regional locations from a central depot.
It is expected Ireland will set up some form of hub to administer the vaccine, which has to be taken in two doses.
Once the vaccines arrive in hubs, they can be stored at between 2C and 8C for up to five days.
They can also be kept in Pfizer shipping boxes for 30 days.
In response to the UK decision, the EMA said its longer approval procedure was more appropriate as it was based on more evidence and checks than the emergency procedure chosen by the UK.
It said it will decide by Dec- ember 29 whether to provisionally authorise the vaccine for use in the EU.
The UK's immunisation advisory committee said that a "precautionary" approach should be taken in advising that pregnant women should not get the vaccine because there is "no data as yet on the safety of Covid-19 vaccines in pregnancy".
"Women should be advised not to come forward to get the vaccination if they may be pregnant or are planning a pregnancy within three months of the first dose," the committee said.
Meanwhile, only very specific high-risk children should be offered the vaccine.
"Following infection, almost all children will have asymptomatic infection or mild disease," the committee said.
"There are very limited data covering vaccination in adol- escents, with no data on vaccination in younger children, at this time.2
Professor Wei Shen Lim, a respiratory physician, told a London briefing that those in the oldest age groups would be vaccinated first.
He said that in the first phase of the vaccine programme 99pc of the most clinically vulnerable would be covered.
"Prioritisation was based on the risk of dying from Covid-19," Prof Kim said.
"In order to protect the most vulnerable, we have prioritised the most vulnerable individuals first."