Providing booster vaccinations for nursing home staff is “beyond critical” and must be planned as soon as possible, the representative group for the private nursing home operators has said.
People aged 65 and over in nursing homes have been receiving booster shots since the start of the month and the HSE plans to vaccinate all 30,000 people in this group within the next week.
Breakthrough infections among vaccinated staff and outbreaks in nursing homes are causing concerns that the people caring for nursing home residents also require booster shots.
Pressure is mounting on the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) to approve the rollout of booster jabs to healthcare workers generally as almost 2,000 staff are absent from work in the HSE due to Covid-19 and outbreaks affect the running of nursing homes.
"It is beyond critical in my mind. We are seeing high numbers again. We know that if there are high numbers of cases in the community, it is going to have an impact on nursing homes," said Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland.
“There are outbreaks in hospitals, outbreaks in nursing homes. Hopefully the decision will be made as soon as possible, in the next 24 hours, and once the decision is made, we then need a programme.”
The HSE said last week there were 154 open Covid-19 outbreaks in long-term residential care facilities, including 62 nursing homes, accounting for about 11 per cent of nursing homes.
The numbers of people affected in each care home are small compared with previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic with an average of about 12 cases in each outbreak.
“They have a big impact on a nursing home, on the running of a home,” said Mr Daly.
“If residents have to be isolated, if staff are out sick, it is challenging. As we head into winter, there is a concern there and it is important that the sector is protected. The sector also has an important role to play in the timely discharge of people from hospitals.”
By Thursday of last week, the HSE had administered booster doses to 21,843 people aged 65 and over in long-term residential care facilities.
Mr Daly said that it would have made sense logistically to provide booster doses to nursing home residents aged below 65 and to staff at the same time as the rollout to older people given the challenges of vaccinating people in remote parts of the country.
He estimated that there were between 45,000 and 50,000 people working in the care home sector.
“It is doable and doable quickly but the question now is getting the Niac decision made and the mobilisation started,” said Mr Daly.
Peadar Tóibín, leader of Aontú, called for all nursing home residents, regardless of age, and staff within care home sector to be given booster doses.
“There is a significant danger that we are heading off an immunity cliff in our nursing homes and there is no plan to offer all patients and all staff in nursing homes a booster shot,” he told his party’s ardfheis on Saturday night.
Israel was one of the first countries to roll out a booster programme of vaccine doses across its population in response to waning immunity and rising cases during a fourth wave of infections starting in June. The programme has led to a drop in new infections and severe illness.