Booster Covid-19 vaccines for people in their 60s and 70s are looking increasingly likely in the race to keep the highly infectious virus at bay this winter.
ealth Minister Stephen Donnelly indicated yesterday that extending boosters to people over 60 or 65 is under active consideration by the expert group, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).
Mr Donnelly was speaking amid rising concern about the increasing spread of Covid-19, which threatens to stall the planned lifting of most remaining restrictions from next Friday.
However, leading immunology expert Professor Kingston Mills of Trinity College said yesterday he would not agree with a six-month gap between the second dose and booster for people in their 60s, which could stretch to February.
Most people in their 60s who got the AstraZeneca vaccine only received a second dose in August, he pointed out.
“I would like to see them getting a booster much earlier than six months,” said Prof Mills, who is Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity.
Earlier the minister said Niac is considering moving more widely into the general population and extending the boosters to the over-65s or possibly over-60s in the community.
Additional vaccines are currently confined to the over-80s, people with very low immune systems and nursing homes residents over 65.
Mr Donnelly warned that if there is more evidence of waning efficacy in vaccines, “we need to be ahead on that”.
Ireland has pre-ordered a large volume of additional vaccines, he added.
Earlier, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the case for a very extensive booster roll-out is “stronger than ever” – pointing to Israel, where boosters have helped contain the virus.
Mr Donnelly, who is self-isolating at home with Covid-type symptoms after getting a negative test, was speaking ahead of the meeting of Nphet on Monday to assess the worrying rise in cases and hospitalisations ahead of the planned October 22 date for lifting most restrictions.
He would not be drawn on whether nightclubs could reopen or Covid certs would need to continue for hospitality, saying it was too early to assess the situation.
Prof Mills said he saw a role for extending the role of Covid cert to other areas, including sports events, as a condition of entry to allow for safer reopening.
Meanwhile, another 1,627 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported yesterday.
The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital remains at 415, but there was a slight rise in the number in intensive care to 70.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said: “Unfortunately, we have seen increases across key indicators of Covid-19 right across the country and the growth rate of the epidemic has accelerated in recent days.
“All indicators of Covid-19 are pointing towards a deteriorating disease trajectory nationally. We are seeing an increase in incidence in all age groups, including older age groups.
“The national incidence is now 415 per 100,000.
As a result, we are seeing an impact on our hospital system, with an average of 50 people being admitted to hospital per day – up from 35 per day at the end of September – and five admissions to intensive care per day.”
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland