Healthcare workers to receive booster Covid-19 shots, Minister confirms

National Immunisation Advisory Committee recommends use of boosters for cohort

Healthcare workers along with those in residential care homes were the first two groups to receive Covid-19 vaccines from the start of this year. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

Covid-19 vaccine booster shots are to be given to healthcare workers from next weekend, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced.

Mr Donnelly approved the extension of the booster programme to healthcare workers on foot of a recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) on Monday.

"Niac has advised that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be used [for the boosters] regardless of the initial vaccine course (mRNA or adenoviral vaccine)," according to Mr Donnelly, posting on Twitter.

“I am advised that for under-60s not immunocompromised, [the] effectiveness of vaccines is sustained against serious illness, hospitalisation and ICU admission,” the Minister tweeted.

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“However, there is evidence of waning immunity over time of increased risk of breakthrough infection, most of which is mild.”

Healthcare workers along with those in residential care homes were the first two groups to receive Covid-19 vaccines from the start of this year.

In September Niac approved the rollout of boosters for care-home residents, due to evidence of waning protection from original vaccine doses for this vulnerable group.

Until now, however, it held off from approving them for healthcare workers.

Studies from Israel, the UK and other countries show the protection provided by vaccines against infection declines over time. However, protection against serious illness remains high, for at least six months after the initial vaccine course was administered.

Absent workers

Up to 3,500 healthcare workers are currently absent from work due to Covid-related illness or being a close contact of a case.

The Health Service Executive has said this is putting a strain on hospital services at a time when the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations and intensive care admissions is higher than it has been since the start of 2021.

Over the past week, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) twice called on the Government to include healthcare workers in the booster vaccination programme.

The INMO welcomed the decision to roll out boosters to healthcare workers, including those in nursing homes.

In an interview on RTÉ News Phil Ni Sheaghda, General Secretary of the INMO, said that it it was a positive development.

“With over 400 healthcare workers a week becoming infected and that figure growing we know the immediate race now is to get the booster administered as quickly as possible.The HSE tell us that they are ready to go. That is good.”

In a statement following the announcement, the INMO said the decision was made later than it would have liked.

“We now need to see a rapid rollout of the vaccine boosters to healthcare workers to make up for lost time. The vaccine supply and capacity to do so is there.

“A lot needs to happen now to keep our hospitals safe for the winter. We can see from today’s trolley figures and the number of healthcare workers who are on Covid-related leave that unless the Minister for Health and the HSE produce a credible winter plan that our hospitals will be in a bad place this winter.”

Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) similarly welcomed the decision to roll out boosters to healthcare workers, including those in nursing homes.

"Extending [this] to frontline staff will bring added protection to those providing person-intensive care in our nursing homes and provide the staff with greater reassurance," said NHI chief executive Tadhg Daly. "We will be engaging with the HSE with a view to rollout of the vaccine in as timely a manner as possible as we enter into the very challenging winter period."

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.