The decision by the Government to move people with certain conditions up the vaccine allocation list has been welcomed by patient support organisations.
Those aged between 16 and 69 who have a medical condition that puts them at very high risk of severe disease and death will now be moved to cohort four, and be vaccinated directly after those aged 70 and older living in the community.
This cohort will include many cancer patients, people with chronic respiratory diseases such as severe cystic fibrosis and severe COPD, people with uncontrolled diabetes, people with Down syndrome, and people who are severely immunocompromised, such as patients who are awaiting an organ transplant.
The COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy was originally published last December, however at the time, the Government said it would be kept under review and amended "as a result of changes to existing evidence and/or the epidemiological situation".
The aim of the strategy is to ensure that people who are most at risk of severe disease and death are prioritised for vaccines when supplies are limited, as they are now.
"In comprising the initial Vaccine Allocation Strategy, the National Immunisation Advisory Council (NIAC) listed several conditions associated with increased risk of severe disease and death. In the intervening period, national and international evidence has become available which has enabled a more detailed analysis of underlying conditions that may increase the risk of developing severe disease or death.
"NIAC has now been able to more comprehensively identify those medical conditions and to distinguish between those which place a person at very high or high risk of severe disease if they contract the virus," the Department of Health noted.
The news was welcomed by Cystic Fibrosis Ireland (CFI), who pointed out that previously, the vaccination status of some high-risk patients "was not explicitly stated".
It said that this reprioritisation "has given many of the most medically vulnerable people in Ireland a stronger sense of hope".
However, patients with cystic fibrosis who are at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease will remain in cohort seven.
"CFI urges a strong ongoing focus on all those at high risk in cohort seven and we urge that further consideration and flexibility should be given to the prioritisation for this group, along with vulnerable carers, as the pace of vaccination increases," the organisation said.
The change in vaccine allocations was also welcomed by the Irish Kidney Association, which said that the "case for change was clear and unequivocal".
"We welcome the revised priority list as it now reflects the true vulnerability of people on dialysis and transplant recipients. We stand ready to work with the HSE to facilitate any messaging and engagement relevant to this group.
"The pandemic has been particularly challenging for people on dialysis and transplant recipients. Both categories of individuals have been identified as being in the extremely vulnerable group of the general population and consequently have spent most of the past 12 months cocooning," the association pointed out.
The news was also welcomed by Diabetes Ireland, which had been calling for changes to the vaccine allocation strategy for some time.
"The new fourth stage of the rollout, which comes into effect after all those over 70 are vaccinated, will see vaccines going to people age 16-69 who are considered at very high risk of developing severe COVID 19.
"Criteria for this allocation group is for people with a BMI of more than 40 and/or people with diabetes who have a HbA1c greater than 58. The next group, cohort five, will see all people age 65-69 with type 1 and type 2 diabetes being prioritised," it noted.
For more information on the vaccine allocation groups, click here.
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