Coronavirus: 1,181 new cases reported in State, with 60 people in ICU

UCD virology specialist says Republic could face constant loop of vaccinations

Officials are considering booster shots for older people aged under 80, those with underlying medical conditions and healthcare workers. File photograph: Getty

Officials are considering booster shots for older people aged under 80, those with underlying medical conditions and healthcare workers. File photograph: Getty

 

A further 1,181 cases of coronavirus were reported in the State on Tuesday. 

According to the latest data from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), 309 people were in hospital with the illness, 60 of whom were in ICU.

The latest case numbers follow a warning from a leading virologist that people in Ireland could face a “constant loop” of Covid-19 jabs every few months because the Government has “put all its eggs in the vaccine basket”.

Gerald Barry, assistant professor of virology at UCD, said there is a “strong argument” that there is no justification for a vaccine booster campaign, which appears like “papering over the cracks”.

“These vaccines are designed to reduce severe illness, hospitalisation and death. They are not designed to protect against infection. Because that hasn’t changed, one can make a strong argument that there is no justification currently for a booster campaign.”

Officials are considering booster shots for older people aged under 80, those with underlying medical conditions and healthcare workers.

Dr Barry said vaccines offer some increased protection against infection.

“So if you want to increase as much as possible the protection against infection, particularly in vulnerable groups, then one could argue that a booster for those specific groups is justified. But I think it is a tricky one,” he said.

“In my opinion, in the vast majority of people, a booster campaign, currently based on evidence, isn’t justified and shouldn’t be rolled out across the wider population.”

On healthcare staff getting boosters, he said it would depend on what health officials are trying to achieve.

“If we are trying to protect people from severe illness, hospitalisaton and death, then the current two-dose regime has achieved that,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

“It is doing as good a job today as it was doing, say, six months ago. If you are trying to reduce as much as possible infections, then, yes, one could argue that a booster might achieve that.”

Dr Barry said data was still coming out on whether it would fully achieve that or not and there is no evidence on the long-term benefits.

Ireland could get into a “constant loop of boosting people to protect them against infection”, he cautioned. And he added that it “feels like using vaccines as a way of papering over the cracks and flaws we have in our system in terms of infection control.

“Unfortunately the Government has decided to put all its eggs in the vaccine basket and we know now, it is very clear, that vaccines are a huge part of getting out of this problem but there are lots of other things that could be done to help.”

Dr Barry said it was also hard to “morally justify” running a booster campaign in Ireland when just 5 per cent of the population of some countries in Africa are offered vaccination.

“It is a global issue,” he added.