HSE Chief Clinical Officer, Dr Colm Henry Leon Farrell
winter plan

'Too early' to say if Covid-19 vaccines will become regular winter jab, says Henry

The HSE Winter Plan was launched last month.

IT IS TOO early to say whether or not Covid-19 vaccines will become a regular part of the winter vaccination programme, says HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry.

Henry said that it was “too early to say” whether or not Covid-19 vaccines would become a yearly occurrence, as there has not been any sudden upheavals with new variants that reset people’s immunity to the virus. 

“We haven’t faced the kind of sudden upheavals that we faced in the past couple of years, in terms of a new variant of concern, that has caused us to reset the dial back in terms of people’s immunity,” Henry said.

“The virus is getting to know us, we’re getting to know it, our immune systems are collectively getting to know it.

“Between natural infection, which would happen with any virus, and between our vaccine program, we’re building up a strong store of immunity against severe infection and hospitalisation.”

It comes as weeks after the HSE launched the 2022/23 Winter Plan, with over €169 million being allocated to implement the plan.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced the plan last month, saying that it would be a “very comprehensive response to what’s going to be a very difficult winter”.

Henry, who was a key figure during the HSE’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, said that Ireland had shifted from a period of containment to mitigation and that Covid-19 would now be viewed as one of many winter viruses, albeit a more transmissible one.

He added that this was why the National Immunisation Advisory Council (Niac) would focus on vaccines for people who are more vulnerable to Covid-19.

“People are used to, for many years now, dealing with annual vaccinations for influenza. As to how it levels out with COVID-19, it’s too early to say.”

He also told reporters this afternoon that there are no new variants of concern “on the horizon as yet”.

He did say that the BQ.1 Omicron subvariant was a “variant of interest”, with it accounting for 25% of all cases that undergo sequencing.

However, Henry said that while it was likely more transmissible, he was not concerned about it causing more serious illness than the original Omicron variant.

“So far, there’s not a huge concern that it leads to any more serious illness than before.  It’s not behaving in any way that would make us think that we’re gonna see something that’s going to translate into more serious illness,” Henry said.

“We don’t believe, based on the evidence of yet, that has the same impact in terms of severe illness or harm it might pose.”

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