The Head of the Covid-19 National Vaccine Taskforce has said there will only be a modest impact to the rollout of the vaccination programme by a temporary reduction in supplies of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

Professor Brian MacCraith said: "After a stressful day, it has been very relieving news to hear from Pfizer this evening that the proposed reduction will only apply to one week and that is this coming week."

Prof MacCraith said he was assured by the Chief Executive of Pfizer in a conference call this evening that the production of the vaccine will return to the normal schedule the following week, before being scaled up from the middle of next month.

He said: "There is additional good news that from 15 February onwards, there will be significant growth in the supplies coming in."

Speaking to RTÉ News, Prof MacCraith said that the National Vaccine Taskforce was "very concerned that it might impact our particular focus at the moment, which is the rollout of the vaccine in nursing homes across the country, but I can assure people that news has changed very much for the better".

He said there will be a small reduction in the manufacturing of doses at the Pfizer plant in Puurs in Belgium this coming week, but he said it will only have "a modest impact on our rollout plans."

Prof MacCraith said it means "we can go ahead with the planned rollout over the coming number of weeks, largely as we planned originally."

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Earlier, Pfizer said there will be a "temporary reduction" in the number of doses delivered next week but added it will be back to the original delivery schedule for the European Union from the 25 January. 

In a statement, the company said it developed a plan "that will allow the scale-up of manufacturing capacities in Europe and deliver significantly more doses in the second quarter" and there will be "increased delivery" 15 February.

The statement said it will inform the European Commission, EU member states and other countries about the changes to the delivery schedules.

It added: "Pfizer and BioNTech are working relentlessly to support the further roll-out of the vaccination campaigns worldwide by not only expanding their own manufacturing capacities but also by adding further suppliers as well as contract manufacturers to increase total manufacturing capacity."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she had spoken to Pfizer and been reassured that scheduled deliveries will be made in the first quarter of 2021.

The Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee said the temporary delays of the vaccines will result in a "compensatory increase" in the number of vaccines that countries will receive. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Professor Karina Butler said while there is no confirmation of how long delays will last, "there will be a compensatory increase after that and it is unlikely to affect the ultimate deadline as it were, for everyone to be vaccinated".

She said we should expect other "glitches" that will delay vaccines getting to Ireland, but she said this is often the case with any vaccine rollout and for other medicines. 

Prof Butler said: "It is not unexpected that there are glitches along the way. It is not going to be plain sailing.

"Although there will be a dip over the next week or weeks, there will be a compensatory increase after that unlikely to affect the deadline as it were for everyone to be vaccinated."                       

Yesterday, the Chief Executive of the Health Service Executive, Paul Reid, said Ireland has received 152,100 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to date.

EU minister express 'severe concern' over delays

Six EU health ministers signed a letter to the European Commission to express "severe concern" over delivery delays.

Ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden said in their letter that the situation was "unacceptable" and "decreases the credibility of the vaccination process".

Meanwhile the FHI said this morning that they "had expected 43,875 vaccines doses from Pfizer in week 3 (next week). Now it appears that we will get 36,075 doses".

Non-EU Norway is getting access to the vaccines obtained by the European bloc thanks to Sweden, European Union member that will buy more than it needs and sell them to Norway.

The institute said there would be no delays in the roll-out of the vaccines to Norwegians as it had built reserves of vaccines in Norway since it had begun receiving deliveries.

Many EU nations say they are receiving lower-than-expected supplies of Covid-19 vaccines and complain of uncertainty over future deliveries, EU officials told Reuters.

EU backing for vaccination certs

The European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has said Brussels backs the idea of a certificate identifying people vaccinated against the coronavirus.

However Ms von der Leyen held back on whether it could offer privileges to holders.

"It is a medical must to have a certificate that you have been vaccinated," Ms von der Leyen told reporters ahead of a visit to Portuguese capital Lisbon, offering her support to a proposal from Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

She added that "whether that gives a priority or access to certain goods, this is a political and legal decision that has to be discussed on the European level".

Last month, the World Health Organization trailed plans for digital vaccination certificates as countries began rolling out shots to their populations.

But beyond keeping track of who has been inoculated, WHO experts "do not recommend immunity passports" that would supposedly assure bearers were protected against Covid-19 after vaccination or surviving infection, the UN body's senior emergency officer for Europe Catherine Smallwood said at the time.