Ireland facing dangerous period with Covid as virus poses fresh challenges

Niac to provide advice on Monday regarding booster shots

The Government expects the National Immunisation Advisory Council  to support the rollout of booster vaccination to healthcare workers and those aged 60 and over

The Government expects the National Immunisation Advisory Council to support the rollout of booster vaccination to healthcare workers and those aged 60 and over

 

Yet again, Ireland is facing into a tricky and dangerous autumn and winter period with Covid. Last year, the attempt to balance politics, public-health restrictions, the economy and the disease culminated in the Christmas disaster.

This year, the vaccine has changed everything, but the virus keeps changing and challenging too. The Government wants to see a beefed-up booster campaign to help control the disease – but how is the vaccine programme working now, and how would boosters fit into it?

The number of people getting vaccinated is considerably down on the summertime peak – obviously enough, because we have run out of arms to put needles in. At the start of September, about 105,000 doses were delivered in a week. By last Sunday that had come down to just over 30,000 per week. Most of that volume – some 62 per cent – is coming from the already-operational booster campaign, which commenced last week and is focused on nursing homes and people aged over 80 in the community, who are getting their shot from GPs. About 6,000 from that week were what’s called “third doses” – technically not a booster – which are being given to severely immunocompromised people.

Aside from the boosters, painstaking efforts are under way to find unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people, which is where the “force of infection” is building up. With 89.6 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated, this is a difficult job. All the low-hanging fruit is long gone.

There are 300,000 eligible adults unvaccinated, as well as 49,000 partially vaccinated adults and about 20,000 more partially vaccinated 12-17 year olds. Various efforts are under way to contact these people, one such being a targeted programme ringing 6,500 people who never turned up for their second AstraZeneca shot, which has resulted in 1,500 more inoculations. The Health Service Executive is finding some people on this list did get a second shot that wasn’t reported, some are willing to be vaccinated and some are refusing for a variety of reasons. Some are healthcare workers, but it’s not clear how many.

Covax

Pfizer deliveries were paused several weeks ago, with Ireland’s allocation being diverted to Covax, the initiative to vaccinate developing countries. However, if our demand was to rise, Ireland’s supplies would be switched back on in line with the contracts signed with manufacturers. As it stands, the HSE believes it could swiftly remobilise much of the infrastructure used during the peak of the vaccination programme and get jabs into the country quickly.

The last piece of the puzzle is the advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Council, which meets on Monday. Government expects this to support rollout to people aged 60 and above, and healthcare workers. Those aged over 60 would be jabbed in their GPs, which is simple enough, but it would likely be the end of this month before mass vaccination centres are reopened, or early November. This is because the staff are currently working their way through nursing homes, delivering about 10,000 shots a week.

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