Consideration should be given to bringing younger people aged 16-35 up the priority list for Covid-19 vaccines, as they are more likely to spread the virus, according to professor of immunovirology Liam Fanning.
Prof Fanning, of University College Cork’s department of medicine, said there was merit in younger people receiving the vaccine earlier, to help prevent transmission of the virus.
“The chronically ill, the transplant patients, the kidney patient, the CF patient they obviously need to come up the list of priorities, but then we have to see,” he said.
“I think it’s worth having a discussion as to the value of those individuals and society at large, as to whether the 16- to 35-year-olds merit skipping the queue,” he said.
“That’s where most of the infections are happening at the moment . . . I would say it should be considered,” he said.
He added such decisions would have to be based on evidence, “because if they skip the queue somebody else is going to be pushed down the queue,” he said.
He made the comments during a Zoom meeting of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group (ISAG), which is made up of academics, scientists and researchers, and advocates for a zero Covid-19 strategy.
The younger age cohorts had endured a lot during the pandemic, so the “early dividend” of a vaccine would be rewarding, Prof Fanning said.
At present people aged 18-54, without underlying health conditions, are among the last cohort on the Health Service Executive priority schedule to receive vaccines.
More than half of the Covid-19 cases confirmed last week were among people under 35 years of age, according to figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
Evidence from countries such as Israel, where large numbers have been vaccinated, shows that the rate of infection fell significantly, Prof Fanning said.
“There’s certainly a good argument to be made for letting the over-70s who are vaccinated mingle amongst themselves,” he said.
Dr Anne Moore, senior lecturer in UCC's school of biochemistry, said allowing the elderly population to emerge from cocooning after they were vaccinated still posed a risk.
“We have 4 per cent of the population who’ve had two vaccines, we still have the risk of a lot of transmission coming back and circulating around the country,” she told the ISAG meeting.
“My personal feeling is we’re not quite ready to do that yet . . . We’ve already let the brakes off once and gone skidding down that hill,” she said.
Officials should wait until there was firmer data around the effect of vaccines on lowering the rate of transmission before easing restrictions, she said.
There were “pros and cons” to the introduction of vaccine passports to allow inoculated people access more services, Prof Fanning said.
“Some people can’t take the vaccine for whatever reason, does that mean they can’t go into a pub or a cinema, because they can’t take the vaccine, [or] do you give them a waiver,” he said.
The senior academic said he feared the coronavirus pandemic was just “a taster”, ahead of a potentially more deadly pandemic in the future.
Echoing other epidemiologists’ concerns than Covid-19 had not been “the big one”, Prof Fanning said he was fearful of a pandemic “which has a much higher kill rate”.
Investment and preparations had to be made now in order to be ready “for the next one,” he said.