Ireland is expected to receive 300,000 fewer doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a result of a shortfall in deliveries to the EU. However, they will start arriving here a week earlier than planned.

Some 600,000 doses were due to be delivered by the end of March under the earlier deal struck between the pharmaceutical company and the European Union.

The Department of Health has been informed that this will now be around 300,000, although sources stress that negotiations and discussions are still ongoing with the company so the final figure could change.

It means that instead of 1.4 million vaccinations being delivered in total for the first quarter, there is likely to be 1.1 million doses.

The Government's target of vaccinating 700,000 people by the end of March was contingent on the arrival of 600,000 AstraZeneca doses.

Today, the EU's medicines regulator recommended the authorisation of the AstraZeneca vaccine for all people over the age of 18, saying it believed the jab was also suitable for older people.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said Ireland will receive its first shots of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine a week earlier than planned.

"The contract was to get it on the week of 15 February but I can confirm now for the first time that it's been agreed that we'll get it in the week of 8 February," he told Newstalk.

Minister Donnelly said they will be rolling out the vaccination programme for the over 70s, starting with the over 85s and there will be information out "soon enough" on how exactly they can avail of the vaccination.

He said Ireland will have several hundred thousand does of AstraZeneca coming in next month and March.

The minister added that because AstraZeneca, to date, has not been able to confirm the agreed delivery, the roll out will not be as fast as they would want it to be.

Minister Donnelly said given that there is less vaccine coming in they will have to adjust and the 700,000 original target "will have to go down".

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee, NIAC, is due to meet over the weekend to discuss the approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

The group is expected to make a recommendation to Government over the coming days on whether the vaccine should be given to people over 65 here. 

Yesterday, the minister came under pressure in the Dáil to say exactly what quantity of AstraZeneca vaccines Ireland now expected to receive.

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Sinn Féin's Health Spokesperson David Cullinane put it to the minister that media reports suggested the final amount "would be as low as one quarter of that 600,000".

Mr Donnelly responded that "robust discussions" were ongoing and Ireland, nor any EU members state, was in a position to say what the final amount would be.

The Government does not expect the shortages to impact on the start date for the roll out of the vaccines to over-70s in the community, but it is still unclear what impact it will have on the pace of that phase, which was previously estimated to conclude by the end of March.

It is expected there would be enough supplies of the Pfizer vaccine to start the delivery of the vaccines to over-70s from mid-February, while AstraZeneca could be diverted to the younger cohort of frontline workers.

The Health Service Executive's CEO Paul Reid earlier welcomed the news that the Novavax vaccine could "potentially come on the supply line soon".

He said Pfizer deliveries of the vaccine are due to continue at 40,000 per week, but that this will increase from mid-February.

"Obviously it is a more complex supply process with the cold chain storage requirements. So we would have to relook at how we would organise the distribution," added Mr Reid.