Cillian de Gascun: NPHET member says Janssen vaccine recipients likely to get boosters as one cohort

A public health expert has said it is likely that people who received the one-shot Janssen vaccine will received booster vaccines as a designated cohort.

PHET member and Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Dr Cillian de Gascun, said he hopes booster doses will give people “long term protection” from Covid-19.

It comes as recent studies have suggested that the efficacy of the Jansen vaccine wains more rapidly over time than other vaccines.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Saturday with Justin McCarthy programme, Dr de Gascun said he understands the National Immunisation Advisory Committee is currently assessing the need to boost Jansen recipients.

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“Certainly, from the point of view of the Janssen group, [it] was always going to be probably ambitious that that would be a true single does vaccine. You might get away with a single dose vaccine in a setting where there are very low levels of virus activity in the community.

“So, I think they will be boosted, and my understanding is that they’ll be boosted as a cohort once the logistics can be scaled up,” he said.

In relation to the use of antigen testing, Dr de Gascun said rapid tests can be used to add an extra “layer of protection” but warned that a negative test result does not prove that a person is Covid-19 negative.

He advised that families attending social events such pantomimes this Christmas season can use antigen tests to help protect themselves, but said if they do not think a particular event is safe then they should leave.

Dr de Gascun said he understands why the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan is apprehensive about people relying on self-administered antigen tests rather PCR tests but added that if antigen tests become part of the country’s public health toolkit, then they should be subsidised.

“If we’re expecting people to do them, they’re not cheap and certainly there will be a large number of families and a large number of individuals that will struggle with that recurring cost of between €4 and €7 per test. So, absolutely if we’re asking people to take these on as part of our collective approach to the pandemic, then to my mind it would make sense to try and subsidise that,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Dr de Gascun said everybody needs to try and reduce the number of close contacts they have to tackle the current wave of the virus.

He said the pandemic has shown that if a confirmed case has more than three close contacts, then the virus is growing. If that number is at or below two then “the epidemic is shrinking” and added that NPHET’s current estimate is between six and seven close contacts per confirmed case.

Dr de Gascun explained that the vaccines mean people do not need to stay in “bubbles” again and said they can see different people on separate weeks – not including those they live with.

“Outside of your household contacts, you’re looking at a very small number of contacts in a given week. It’s important that we try and plan out what our social interactions are for the week. It can be a different person every week.

“We’re not talking about bubbling up in the same way as we would have earlier in the pandemic because we do have a level of protection from vaccination that we didn’t have before. The vaccines are still really effective, the problem is that that effectiveness wains over time,” he said.

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