There were sighs of relief around Government Buildings as approval came through for the one vaccine it has hailed as a game changer.
Yesterday, the European Medicines Agency cleared the AstraZeneca jab for use for all adults – including those over 65.
And while the row over supply continues, the move means the Irish vaccination plan has cleared a hurdle in the race to protect the population.
But the manufacturing problems and the question marks over protection for older people has exposed the vulnerability in the Government’s plans as it wrestles to deliver a mammoth operation with many unknowns.
To add to its woes, Ireland has been drawn into the unexpected diplomatic row which has exploded over the EU’s decision to override part of the Brexit deal in order to ensure vaccine supply.
The easily stored AstraZeneca vaccine was repeatedly hailed as a game changer by senior government figures – among them Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
It is the cornerstone of the aim to vaccinate all over 70s in mass vaccination centres because it will be easier to scale up the rollout of doses that do not require special storage.
But others have questioned the wisdom of depending so much on one particular vaccine.
TCD Professor of Experimental Immunology Kingston Mills said this week: “I’ve heard this vaccine being called a gamechanger by some of our people in Government. I think that was a very dangerous thing to do because it was putting too much emphasis on a single vaccine.”
Professor Mills said there are many other vaccines in development and he was particularly impressed by the new data from Novavax which seems to have an edge in tackling some of the new Covid variants.
The EU has not yet agreed contracts with Novavax although exploratory talks have taken place.
And all this illustrates the Catch 22 for the Government as it comes under pressure to set out timelines in a process out of its control and beset by uncertainty.
Targets are going to slip and the Government faces accusations of overpromising and underdelivering.
This week, the Minister for Health performed some linguistic gymnastics insisting that he had not promised that everyone would be offered a vaccine by September – instead it was an “aspiration” or “projection” with many caveats.
And while it’s true that the target he delivered in the Dáil was indicative and subject to supply, the subtleties may be lost on a public hungry for hard data on when normal life can resume.
Mr Donnelly was much more reticent taking Health Questions on Thursday when he repeatedly deflected Opposition attempts to elicit whether there would be any slippage in the overall target of vaccinating all over-70s by the end of March.
Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane posed the question several times and was frustrated with the responses.
“No timeframes or targets were given and the minister did not revise the timeframes he had given to Deputies in this House and to the public over recent weeks. It pains me to say it but it is difficult to retain confidence in the rollout of the vaccination programme when we are not given the information we should be getting from the Minister for Health.”
The key challenge for the Government on vaccination is now about managing expectations. Given the number of other vaccines in development, Ireland should have all its population vaccinated this year.
But the early weeks of the rollout programme have demonstrated that it’s not straightforward and there is, as HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid said, a bumpy road ahead.
And while the supply of AstraZeneca remains fraught, there’s better news on the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine.
According to the head of the High Level Taskforce on Covid Vaccination, Professor Brian MacCraith, Ireland has signed up to 2.2 million doses with most due to arrive in the third quarter of the year.
The other development this week was the firm move on to the political agenda of a push to a Zero Covid strategy.
Labour’s Alan Kelly put it succinctly in the Dáil this week when he said that it was now clear that vaccines were not going to be the panacea for 2021.
This too exposes the vulnerability in the Government’s strategy of betting everything on vaccination.
Opposition TDs have accused it of having no alternative plan as the harsh reality of tackling an evolving virus has become all too clear.

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