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Q&A: Who is eligible for a Covid-19 booster and when will I get mine?

Here’s what you need to know about the Covid-19 booster rollout programme.

File photo of a person's arm post-injection
File photo of a person's arm post-injection
Image: Shutterstock/Alexxndr

MORE THAN 8.8 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Ireland to date, including almost 1.5 million boosters.

The HSE’s booster programme rollout is being ramped up in the coming weeks amid growing fears about the latest Covid variant, Omicron.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly yesterday confirmed that Omicron accounts for about 27% of all new cases of the virus in Ireland. He said Covid-19 boosters provide “dramatic” and “essential” protection.

Speaking at the HSE’s Covid briefing yesterday afternoon, HSE CEO Paul Reid stated that, throughout the pandemic, “on every occasion when we feel that we’re nearly over the worst” Covid-19 emerges again with another “threat”.

The country now faces more uncertainty ahead of Christmas due to the Omicron variant, Reid noted, adding that boosters will greatly increase people’s protection against the virus.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar today tweeted: “We were winning the fight against Delta. Now Omicron is coming when we are at our most vulnerable – winter, Christmas, flu season. It’s a cruel virus.”

The Cabinet is meeting today to discuss new recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) aimed at reducing the spread of the Omicron variant.

Last night, a letter from Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly recommended that pubs and restaurants be shut from 5pm, and that the number of people attending sporting and live events be reduced.

The Cabinet Covid sub-committee is currently meeting, ahead of a full Cabinet meeting at around 2.30pm, where ministers will discuss the recommendations.

Depending on how long the Cabinet meeting goes on for, it is expected that Taoiseach Micheál Martin may address the nation at around 6pm.

As we await an announcement on possible new restrictions, here’s a roundup of everything we know about the booster rollout to date.

Who is eligible to get a booster now?

  • people aged 50 and older
  • people living in a nursing home or a long-term healthcare facility
  • healthcare workers
  • people aged 16 to 49 with an underlying condition

Underlying conditions include chronic illnesses, cancer and diabetes. A list can be read here.

Who will get a booster next?

  • pregnant people who are 16 years or older 
  • people aged 16 to 49 – in stages with older age groups being called first
  • children in hospital
  • high-risk children aged 5 to 11

The HSE yesterday confirmed that people aged 40 to 49 will be offered Covid-19 boosters from 27 December, three weeks ahead of schedule.

Pregnant people can get boosters from this weekend onwards.

Vaccinations for children aged 5-11 will commence in paediatric hospitals next week. The portal to register ‘high-risk’ children aged 5-11 for vaccines will open on 28 December. The programme will extend to all other 5 to 11 year-olds from 10 January onwards.

Children will receive a two-dose vaccine, 21 days apart, but it will be a lower dose (10 micrograms) than the adult vaccine.

How do I get a booster appointment?

You do not need to register for a booster dose. There are three ways to get your booster:

  • The HSE will send you a text message with an appointment date and time at a vaccination centre
  • You can go to a walk-in booster clinic at a vaccination centre – when they are open for your age group (no appointment needed)
  • You can book an appointment with a participating pharmacy – when your age group is getting vaccinated
  • Some GP surgeries are also vaccinating their patients, contact your GP for information 

If you are a healthcare worker, you will get a text message from the HSE with a vaccination centre appointment.

Some healthcare workers may be offered a vaccine at their workplace. You can also choose to go to a walk-in booster clinic when they are open for healthcare workers.

Can I get a booster if I have had Covid in the past six months?

No, you cannot get a booster within six months of having Covid-19. The HSE has said that over 300,000 people fit into this category, having caught the virus since June.

If you have had the virus within the last six months but receive a text message from the HSE calling you to a booster appointment, reply ‘Covid’ and you won’t be called again to an appointment for at least six weeks, or you can fill out this form on the HSE’s website.

This is a placeholder arrangement put in place so people can be contacted again.

People are asked not to go for a booster appointment if they currently have Covid-19, have symptoms or are restricting their movements.

How can I reschedule a booster appointment?

If you get a HSE appointment text, but you have already gone to a walk-in clinic, GP or pharmacy, cancel it by replying to the text with the word ‘Reject’.

If you cannot go to your appointment, you can ask for a new one. In this instance, reply to the text message with the word ‘New’.

If you would like to change your appointment to a different vaccination centre, fill in the vaccination centre change form here or phone 1800 700 700.

The HSE has said it may not be possible to go to the same vaccination centre where you were vaccinated in the past.

What if I was previously vaccinated in a different country?

If you were vaccinated abroad, you can get your booster in Ireland if you are in the age group being offered a vaccine now.

Wait until it has been three months (at least 90 days) since you got your previous vaccine, then phone 1800 700 700 to arrange your appointment. You will need your vaccination details including vaccine type, date given and expiry date.

What if I can’t leave my home?

If you got your Covid-19 vaccine at home last time, the HSE will contact you to organise your vaccine at home again.

If you were not vaccinated at home before but can’t leave your home now, your GP can refer you for home vaccination. If you do not have a GP, phone 1800 700 700.

What type of booster will I get?

If you are aged 30 years or older, you will receive a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. If you are under 30, you will receive a single dose of a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) has recommended these vaccines as a booster. Even if you were initially vaccinated with the AstraZeneca or Janssen vaccine, you will get a booster dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, depending on your age.

Has the 15-minute post-vaccine wait period been waived?

Yes, it has been waived for the booster vaccine, on foot of advice from NIAC.

However, the 15-minute period will remain in place for children getting the vaccine and adults who are receiving their first or second dose of a vaccine, not their booster.

Adults who have previously had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) will be asked to wait at the facility in question for 30 minutes after they receive their booster.

NIAC’s advice on why the 15-minute period is being waived for boosters:

Screenshot 2021-12-17 12.01.04 Source: NIAC

People who get a vaccine have been advised to immediately seek medical attention if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing
  • dizziness
  • a fast heartbeat or a skin rash

The HSE has said these symptoms could be a sign of an allergic reaction, but added “severe allergic reactions are rare”.

How is the Government ramping up its booster programme?

In a bid to ramp up the booster programme, opening hours at vaccination centres will be extended to 12 hours from the end of this week – from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. However, centres will be closed on Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day.

Capacity will also be increased in a number of current vaccination centres – for example, the UCD vaccination centre is increasing from 10 to 15 booths.

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Three new vaccination centres will open in the coming days and weeks: two in Dublin – a centre at Richmond Barracks opened yesterday and a centre at the RDS will open on 27 December; and one in Cork city will open in early January.

Up to 700 pharmacies will be administering Covid-19 vaccines by the end of this week, increasing to 1,000 by early January, Reid said yesterday.

He added that he was “pleading” with more pharmacies to take part in the rollout, acknowledging they are very busy but adding we are in the middle of “a national emergency”.

The HSE has also called on more GP surgeries to start offering boosters to patients. About 75% of GP surgeries are already offering boosters, but the HSE wants more surgeries (about 1,300 in total) to take part in the programme.

GPs are currently administering around 85,000 doses a week, but the HSE wants to double this.

On Wednesday, it was reported that pharmacies would be offering boosters to younger age cohorts.

However, in a clarification that evening, the HSE confirmed that pharmacies are currently only offering booster jabs to those aged over 50, people with underlying conditions, healthcare workers and pregnant women.

A HSE spokesperson said: “A draft guidance document was issued to our IPU colleagues seeking to advise them of new ways to accelerate the programme. It was not our intention to extend to other cohorts outside of the current Operational Plan for Pharmacies.”

Despite this, the Irish Pharmacy Union said anyone who booked their appointment in the hours before the message was recalled by the HSE should have this honoured.

Where do GPs stand on this?

Earlier this week the HSE advised GPs they can start administering booster vaccines to younger age cohorts once those aged over 50 and more vulnerable patients have received a booster.

A spokesperson for the HSE told The Journal that GPs should continue to prioritise people aged 50-64, residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, people aged 16 and over with underlying health conditions and healthcare workers.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday, Mary Favier, Covid advisor to the Irish College of General Practitioners, said that GPs will be working to double the number of booster vaccines they will administer in the coming weeks, but this will be at the expense of normal GP services.

“GPs are delivering a significant number of booster vaccinations already, between 75,000 and 85,000 a week, but we’re now going to try and double that in the next one, two and three weeks with an all-out push to put booster jabs in people’s arms,” she said.

As a result of this, she said that non-essential work is being pushed back until the new year.

“We’re going to try and delay all non-essential, non-immediate work until the new year, well into the new year and divert all but urgent work into giving boosters.”

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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