THE rollout of booster shots is already offering higher protection from Covid-19 among older age groups, it emerged yesterday.
he proportion of over-65s among Covid-19 hospitalised patients has fallen from around 45pc in recent weeks to 40pc.
Of the 61,315 cases of the virus notified in the two weeks to midnight on Tuesday last week, 70pc was in people under 45 and 8pc was in the over-65s.
Incidence declined in those aged 80 and it is more recently beginning to be seen in the 75- to 79-year-old age group.
The added protection being given by Covid-19 boosters comes against a threat of the high levels of the Delta variant and the unknown potential scale of risk from the newest mutant Omicron.
Recently-published data from the UK Health Security Agency suggested that people aged 50 and older who received a third booster dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine increased their level of protection against symptomatic Covid-19 infection to 93.1pc. This was among those who had earlier been fully vaccinated with AstraZeneca.
The Indo Daily: Omicron and Covid Anxiety – Everything you need to know
It rose to 94.0pc for those who previously had the Pfizer jab.
The HSE’s booster programme is currently prioritising older and at-risk groups for booster shots. To date, it has administered around 800,000 booster shots and additional vaccines for the immunocompromised.
The major concern remains that Omicron, the new variant, will impact vaccines.
Emer Cooke , executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said yesterday that it was not known if drug makers would need to tweak their vaccines to protect against Omicron. But the EMA was preparing for that possibility.
“Were there a need to change the existing vaccines, we could be in a position to have those approved within three to four months,” she said.
“Companies adapting their formulations to include the new sequencing will then have to show that the production system works. They will then have to do some clinical trials to determine that this actually works in practice.”
EMA clarified in a separate statement that the review will start when the drug makers decide they need to change the vaccine and begin work on that.
“We expect to receive smaller [data] packages which would reduce the evaluation time,” EMA said, based on guidance in place since February for any variant-specific vaccine upgrade.
Ms Cooke sought to reaffirm repeated calls for people to get vaccinated with the approved jabs currently available.
“Even if the new variant becomes more widespread, the vaccines we have will continue to provide protection,” she said.
Echoing previous remarks by vaccine maker BioNTech, Ms Cooke said that laboratory analysis should indicate over the next two weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.
Prof Christine Loscher of Dublin City University said even if the new variant impacts the quality of antibodies produced in response to the jabs, the booster shots significantly increase the level of antibodies a person develops, which will give good protection.