The Taoiseach has downplayed suggestions that Ireland could engage with individual countries for supplies of unused Covid-19 vaccinations.

Speaking in Galway this evening, Micheál Martin said that following queries from the Government, Germany had made it clear it would be using all the supplies of vaccines that it had.

Mr Martin said both Germany and France were now planning to use Astra Zeneca vaccines for people over the age of 65.

He said the UK would also be using all its vaccines on its own population before considering offering supplies to other countries.

Earlier, this week the HSE said it had administered 18,157 fewer vaccine doses than the 100,000 it had committed to delivering.

However, it said the shortfall was due to the deferral of a delivery of 25,000 AstraZeneca vaccines last week and this week. It said that it had been assured that the shortfall will be recovered this month.

Acknowledging that it was "very challenging" to meet vaccination targets for the month of March, the Taoiseach said he was confident of significant, additional vaccine supplies in the second quarter. 

He said he was confident that vaccination targets outlined for the end of June could be met, but he emphasised this was subject to supply.

The Taoiseach said we did not have control over this, but that Europe was making additional efforts to increase supply and remove bottlenecks around production. 

Mr Martin said he had not been vaccinated himself yet and was waiting to receive his jabs in line with the indicative timeframe for people his age.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that no country should be stockpiling vaccines.

She said that on the "basis of common sense" Government should be seeking vaccines both "within the European system and, if possible, outside of that system".

Speaking on the plinth at Leinster House, Ms McDonald also called for the logistics underpinning the vaccine roll-out in Ireland to be improved. 

She said that Covid-19 was a global problem and that "we should look for every opportunity that we can to source the vaccines that we need".

Yesterday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed in the Dáil that he has asked the High-Level Taskforce on Covid-19 vaccinations to examine whether extra supplies can be sought outside of the EU vaccine supply agreement.

Ms McDonald warned however that the health system must have "the right mechanisms to ensure that they are delivered efficiently".

She said that the problems experienced in the delivery so far have left doubts in people's minds around how the system will cope when supplies increase.

On the issue of vaccine passports, Mr Martin said that the EU had decided that vaccination certificates would be issued.

But he said the process was at very early stage, with issues relating to civil liberties to be considered.

Mr Martin said there was a debate to be had about the degree to which the certificate would allow people to access various services or recreational facilities.

The Taoiseach also said no "red flags" had been raised at this stage in relation to the return to school by some primary pupils this week.

He said the actions of a small number of third level students who breached Covid-19 guidelines were not a representation of all students' behaviour or that of wider society.

Mr Martin said he understood that people were sick of restrictions, but he said he would appeal to them to "stick with it" as the best way to save lives, minimise transmission and ensure a return to normality.

Govt sets 84,166 vaccine target for next week

Earlier, the Government set a target of 84,166 Covid vaccines to be administered next week.

As part of a daily briefing to ministers on the vaccine roll-out from the Department of Health, Cabinet members were told this morning that this will include:

- 11,500 for those in long-term residential care, including 500 first doses
- 25,666 frontline health workers
- 37,000 people aged over 70 (with the 80-84 cohort next)
- 10,000 with underlying health conditions.

HSE Chief Clinical Officer Colm Henry has said that almost half a million vaccines have been administered in Ireland to date, with 82,000 vaccines administered this week instead of the planned 100,000.

Dr Henry said that the "vast majority" of over-85s will be vaccinated with a first dose this week, but between 600 and 800 of this cohort will not be completed until next week.

He told RTÉ's News At One some scheduled vaccine deliveries to GP clinics did not happen in time this week and there had been "clear issues" for some practices.

But any of those in the over-85 age group left without a vaccine should receive it next week.

Next week, the programnme moves onto the 80-84 age group and also gives out second doses for those in residential care and healthcare workers.

Dr Henry said AstraZeneca had informed the HSE of a shortfall in the order of 75,000 doses, across two weeks, but he was "hopeful" they would be able to catch up regarding any shortage by the end of March.

He said people with particularly chronic disease would begin to be vaccinated from next week and work is under way to identify and contact 160,000 people in this category.

Dr Henry said 10,000 of these people will be vaccinated next week with the HSE working with hospitals to identify them. He said he has spoken to clinical directors at hospitals today to identify specific cancer and renal patients for vaccine priority.

He also said the vaccination programme has resulted in "a massive drop" in infection rates in nursing homes, hospitals and residential care homes.

Dr Henry said that positive tests among hospital workers have fallen from 1,000 per week in mid-January to 39 per week in the week to last Sunday.

He said that positive tests in residential care settings and in healthcare-acquired infections had dropped from 500 a week on 17 January to 50 in the week ending 28 February.

Dr Henry said this fall can only be attributed to the impact of the vaccines.

Additional reporting Tommy Meskill