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People aged 40-49 to be offered Covid boosters from 27 December, three weeks ahead of schedule

50,000 Covid-19 vaccines were administered yesterday – a daily record.

People queuing outside the HSE Covid-19 vaccination centre in Croke Park in Dublin last week (file photo).
People queuing outside the HSE Covid-19 vaccination centre in Croke Park in Dublin last week (file photo).
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

PEOPLE AGED 40 to 49 will be offered Covid-19 boosters from 27 December, three weeks ahead of schedule, the HSE confirmed today.

Meanwhile, new vaccination centres will open in the coming weeks and the opening hours of current centres will be extended in a bid to ramp up the booster rollout programme.

Speaking at the HSE’s Covid briefing this afternoon, CEO Paul Reid confirmed that over 8.8 million Covid vaccines have been administered in Ireland to date.

Reid said that almost 1.5 million boosters have been administered so far, with 50,000 vaccines administered yesterday – a daily record.

He 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, he noted.

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

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met this afternoon amid growing fears over the Omicron variant.

Booster rollout plans

Outlining plans for the HSE’s booster programme in the coming days and weeks, Reid confirmed that people aged 40-49 will be offered boosters from the week of 27 December – three weeks ahead of the initial plan. 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.

Parents or guardians can register their child for the vaccine online. Children will be “encouraged” to bring items such as “their favourite toy, a book or ear defenders” as needed. Quieter times will be made available for children with additional needs, the HSE said.

Speaking at today’s briefing, Dr Lucy Jessop, Director of Public Health at the HSE’s National Immunisation Office, noted that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) “very strongly recommends” the vaccine for children aged 5-11 who have underlying conditions, who are living with a younger child with complex medical needs, or who are living with someone who is immunocompromised.

Jessop said the list of chronic conditions includes “chronic lung diseases, liver, heart diseases, neurological diseases, cancer, sickle cell disease, obesity, children who are immunocompromised or may have intellectual disabilities, or diabetes”, as well as other conditions.

She added that parents “obviously know their children best, so if parents feel their children fit into any of these categories”, they should register them for the vaccine.

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.

Three new vaccination centres will open in the coming days and weeks – two in Dublin (Richmond Barracks today and the RDS on 27 December) and one in Cork city (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 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”.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar yesterday said that around 1.75 million people will have received their third Covid vaccination by Christmas.

It is understood that Varadkar told last night’s Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting that two million will have received their booster jab by the new year.

The Government has also taken on advice which will see the removal of the 15-minute post-jab observation period for adults in the hope that this will speed up the immunisation process. The 15-minute observation period will still be observed after children are vaccinated.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Varadkar confirmed that NIAC has recommended that people who received the one-dose Janssen vaccine should be offered a booster sooner that others the same age who received a two-dose vaccine.

GPs and pharmacies

The HSE yesterday 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.

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However, they said that once these groups receive a booster, GPs can start administering booster vaccines to all pregnant women aged 16 and older, people aged 40-49 and people aged 16-39 in descending order by age cohorts in line with guidance from NIAC.

Those aged 16 to 39 who received a Janssen vaccine as their primary vaccine can be offered a booster dose irrespective of their age after a minimum three-month interval.

It was initially reported that pharmacies would also be offering boosters to the younger age cohorts.

However, in a clarification yesterday 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.”

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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