The Government has requested early deliveries of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine so that it is ready to be administered in GP clinics, pharmacies and vaccination centres as soon as it is approved later this month.

The vaccine has been described as a "game changer" in the country's vaccination programme because it is easier to store and because Ireland is entitled to 3.3 million doses of it.

Following a report in the Business Post, a spokesperson for Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed to RTÉ News that discussions were under way.

The aim is to secure early deliveries so that vaccinations can begin immediately after its expected approval in two weeks' time.

Speaking on RTÉ's This Week, Minister Donnelly said that acquiring doses of the vaccine before its formal approval is "in no way certain".

He said they want to ensure that the doses can be administered straight after approval, rather than "spending several days getting it in to the country".

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The minister said it is something that "may or may not be possible" but that "every day counts".

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil on Thursday that the vaccine is due for approval by the European Medicines Agency on 29 January.

Mr Varadkar said it would enable the ramping up of vaccines from 50,000 doses to 100,000 doses a week.

He was responding to the Kildare South Independent TD, Cathal Berry, who said it was important to get the vaccines "from the shelf into people's shoulders where they belong".

Mr Donnelly said all nursing home residents will have received their first doses of a vaccine by this day next week.

He also said he was "taken aback" by comments made by Labour leader Alan Kelly, suggesting that healthcare workers on the frontline should be prioritised ahead of those in nursing homes.

The minister said 26,000 vaccinations have been brought forward to the next seven days.

"This day next week it would be 140,000 vaccinated: 70,000 in long-term residential care settings and 70,000 frontline health workers," he said.

According to the latest available figures, just over 77,000 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been administered up until last Thursday.

Yesterday, saw the first doses of the Moderna vaccine being given to GPs and GP practice nurses at vaccination centres in Dublin, Laois and Galway.

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Recommendation issued over administration of vaccine to frail elderly people

Healthcare workers have been told that it is not appropriate to administer a Covid-19 vaccine to people whose expected duration of life is less than the time it takes to work.

The Chief Clinical Officer of the Health Service Executive made the recommendation in an email to clinicians administering vaccinations in long-term residential care settings.

It came after the deaths of 23 frail elderly people in Norway who died after receiving the Pfizer BioNTech jab.

In a report, the Norwegian Medicines Agency said "common adverse reactions to mRNA vaccines, such as fever and nausea, may have contributed to a fatal outcome in some frail patients".

In the HSE email, seen by RTÉ News, Dr Colm Henry said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) here has reviewed the available information and has advised that "the vaccination roll-out should continue as planned".

He said NIAC "reiterate that, as in all situations, a careful, individual assessment of the risk/benefit ratio for those receiving a Covid-19 vaccine should be carried out".

However, Dr Henry has advised that the vaccination "should be deferred in people with acute febrile illness, those who are acutely unwell until recovery, and for four weeks following diagnosis of Covid-19".

He said: "Given that the benefit from vaccination begins only about 10-14 days following the first dose and full protection is not achieved until 7-14 days following the second dose of vaccine currently in use, it is not appropriate to vaccinate people if their expected duration of life is less than that for the vaccine to take effect.

"Matters relating to decisions on the potential benefit or otherwise of the vaccine for those who are extremely frail and/or approaching end of life should form part of the considerations during the consent process with the patient, and in consultation with their families as appropriate, and may need input of more than one healthcare professional."

In a statement, the HSE said "NIAC has not advised any change in the use of the vaccine at this time and that vaccination roll-out should continue as planned".

The HSE added that the virus has had "a particularly severe impact on many residents in long-term residential care settings due to their susceptibility.

"Vaccination offers the best opportunity for additional protection of individuals within these settings against Covid-19 and residents and workers in these settings were given prioritisation for vaccine roll-out."

The HSE also said that to date, over ten million Covid-19 vaccines have now been distributed globally.

It said: "It is important to note that fatalities will occur from natural causes or background illnesses, and will continue to do so, during any vaccination campaign."