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Taoiseach provides booster timeline as he says vaccines still 'at core' of Covid response

People will receive an mRNA vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna for their booster dose.

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Updated Nov 16th 2021, 9:00 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has outlined an indicative timeline for the completion of the cohorts that are currently approved for a Covid-19 booster vaccine. 

The booster programme is already underway in Ireland for people who are immunocompromised, healthcare workers and those over 60, with the National Immunisation Advisory Council (NIAC) last night approving the further rollout to people aged 50-59. 

Martin said there are currently about 2.2 million people in the groups NIAC has approved for a booster jab but that the rollout is complicated by the need to “factor in” the interval of at least five months between doses two and three. 

In an address this evening, the Taoiseach said the vaccine and booster programme remains “at the core” of Ireland’s response to Covid-19.

“The evidence internationally and our own experience with those over 80 who have received a booster is extremely encouraging,” Martin said.

Evidence from the UK and elsewhere shows that the booster not only restores the immunity level achieved by two doses, but increases it.

People receive an mRNA vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna for a booster dose, regardless of the first initial vaccines a person received.  

The government this evening said the HSE is planning to expand capacity through pharmacies and vaccine centres and a “further ramp-up of the delivery programme” in the coming days.

As of Sunday, HSE Paul Reid said that over 400,000 booster doses have been delivered. 

Speaking in the Dáil today, Labour leader Alan Kelly TD said that people working in frontline services should be prioritised for booster jabs. 

“Will you consider for frontline services, guards, retail, transport workers and most of all teachers, SNAs and early years workers, that they will be prioritised for boosters, primarily so the school system does not fall over,” he said. 

In response, An Taoiseach said that NIAC’s advice for boosters is currently based on age and those with underlying conditions. 

When the vaccine rollout was taking place earlier this year, workers in some sectors were initially prioritised for vaccines until NIAC changed the plan to adopt an age-based model

In terms of the boosters already being delivered, Martin said that over-65s in long-term care amount to some 30,000 people and that boosters for this group were “substantially completed” at the end of last month. 

He said that those aged over 80 represent a cohort size of 161,000 people and that this group should be substantially completed by mid-November. 

For the group of people aged 70-79, the booster timeline is for the end of November or the beginning of December while the 60-69 group should be completed at the end of December.

A similar timeline of the end of the year is being targeted for healthcare workers under 60, who amount to some 305,000 people.   

The timeline for the 50-59 cohort is currently being worked out after the group was approved last night. 

The Taoiseach added that the five-month interval between the initial vaccine course and the booster means that some of the cohorts will not be completely boosted until March 2022. 

Martin provided the dates for the booster programme following questions from SocDem’s co-leader Catherine Murphy TD who said that the booster campaign need to be “scaled up”. 

Murphy added that there is a particular concern among people who received their second dose of AstraZeneca in August 2021 as they here have to wait until early next year for a booster dose. 

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The interval between AstraZeneca doses had initially been 12 weeks before it was reduced to eight and then four.

“There is no doubt the vaccination program was a really good success, but we now know it requires three stages. I’m hearing from people in their 70s that are asking me when are they likely to even get notification of a date,” she said. 

Murphy added: “Have you consulted with GPs on their ability to deliver that, GPs are very busy at the moment with lots of things circulating in the in the community.”

NIAC has attempted reassure people who didn’t receive their second dose until the end of August that they remain protected from Covid-19.

Speaking today, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly welcomed the move by NIAC to approve vaccines for over 50s. 

“NIAC have pointed out that the risk of vaccinated people aged 50-59 years requiring hospitalisation and becoming seriously ill and dying is higher than in younger age groups, therefore they are next in the order of priority for booster vaccination,” he said. 

“In Ireland, we have already seen that booster doses given to those aged 80 years and older have been followed by a sharp decline in case numbers in that age group. This is very welcome news, and I encourage all of those who are eligible for a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine to come forward and receive that vaccine as soon as it is available to you.”

Additional reporting by Orla Dwyer.

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Rónán Duffy

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