Taoiseach Micheál Martin has sought a meeting with the CEO of AstraZeneca for next week, to discuss the production and supply of Covid-19 vaccines.

Earlier in the Dáil, Minister for Heath Stephen Donnelly said AstraZeneca is "repeatedly changing its delivery schedules, often at the last minute, and revising down the volumes that it had agreed to deliver".

Mr Donnelly said it was unfair for people to accuse the Health Service Executive of missing vaccine targets.

"This is not true, AstraZeneca is missing its targets," he said.

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Mr Donnelly said that over a seven-day period last week, AstraZeneca revised down their deliveries "at the very last minute, three times", citing problems around production.

He also rejected the idea that Ireland should use vaccines that have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.

He said more than 99% of people aged over 85 have now been vaccinated but a "few hundred" still have not received the vaccine.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee is conducting a full population review regarding the rollout of vaccines, he said, which will look at supplies and provide "indicative timelines" for when people can expect to be vaccinated.

Sinn Féin's health spokesperson David Cullinane asked the minister if he had been in direct contact with AstraZeneca.

Mr Donnelly said that he has not because the contracting relationship is with the European Commission.

He also said that he was aware of different arrangements, such as Denmark reaching a deal with Israel.

However, he said, that these vaccines would not arrive to Denmark until the fourth quarter.

Deputy Cullinane said that the roll-out so far has not been as efficient as it should have been and that revised delivery schedules from AstraZeneca are not acceptable.

He also said there has been administration difficulties here, with GPs not getting supplies on time, not getting them at all, or not getting the proper equipment.

In response to a question on family carers being moved up the vaccine priority list, Minister Donnelly said there is a lot of work being done by his department to examine how they will vaccinate the rest of the population.

He told Deputy Cullinane that there is only a finite supply of vaccines and moving family carers up the priority list would mean that another group would have to be moved down.

Government 'seeking explanations' over AztraZeneca supplies

The Tánaiste said AstraZeneca's failure to honour its Covid-19 vaccine contracts with the EU is creating "enormous problems", and the Government is "seeking explanations" as to why that failure is occurring.

He was replying to Labour leader Alan Kelly, who told the Dáil that it was "simply unacceptable" that the company did not honour its contracts, and the EU was "failing" its citizens by allowing it to continue.

Deputy Kelly said the European Commission needs a "dose of reality" because it is not aware of the "level of frustration" with the current situation.

He said the EU response needs to be "recalibrated, become more ambitious and clinical," and called for a leaders' summit, which would protect current supply, ensure contracts were honoured and put in place plans to increase production. 

Leo Varadkar said he cannot understand how a "big successful company" like AstraZeneca can honour its contracts to the UK and the US but not the EU and described the situation as "not satisfactory."

Addressing Deputy Kelly's point that the EU had exported 34 million vaccine doses, including nine million to the UK, Mr Varadkar said the EU does have the power to ban exports, adding that "Italy has done just that."

The Tánaiste said that there is going to be an EU leaders' summit on the issue of vaccines, but said he was not aware if a date had been chosen. 

Government must seek out every opportunity on vaccine supply - McDonald

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government needs to seek out every opportunity to secure more vaccine supplies for Ireland.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Deputy McDonald said everyone accepts there is "no magic mountain" of vaccines but, said she does not accept the Government's contention that it has done everything it can.

She said the Government should have "open contact with large pharma companies" and exert maximum pressure through the EU system and where there was additional capacity or stockpiling, that the matter was resolved and full capacity was released, ensuring Ireland got its full amount.

She also criticised the lack of Government contact with the pharma companies to date where there has been an issue with supply such as with AstraZeneca.

She said she is astonished that Minister Donnelly has not raised the phone to AstraZeneca when the delivery has fallen short.

No mountains of spare vaccines

Earlier, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that despite setbacks, the roll-out of the vaccine here is moving in the right direction.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said he understands people's frustration with the pace of the roll-out, but there are not "mountains of spare vaccines" available.

"People are saying why don't you use your relationship with the British government to get spare vaccines from the UK or the US. The truth is there isn't spare vaccines right now. There may be later on in the summer, but at that point in time I think we will have sufficient amount of vaccines from the pre-purchasing system that the EU has set up."

He said the planned roll-out in Ireland means a million vaccines can be expected here in April and in May that figure will be 1.25 million and in June 1.6 million.

He also said that by the end of June there could be 4.5 to 5 million vaccines administered in Ireland, meaning the vast majority of the adult population would be vaccinated.

"By early autumn I believe we will have a lot of spare vaccines," he added.

Additional reporting Paul Cunningham, Tommy Meskill