Nursing homes say Government must stay ‘ahead of’ fourth Covid-19 jab issue

State’s vaccine advisers have been asked for view on second booster for older people

It is about three months since many nursing home residents received their third booster doses. Photograph: iStock

It is about three months since many nursing home residents received their third booster doses. Photograph: iStock

 

The nursing home sector has called on the Government to stay “ahead of” international guidance on fourth Covid-19 vaccine doses for older people as it awaits official advice on the jab.

Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, said that fourth doses have to “absolutely” be considered in light of the added protection it is giving older people in Israel.

“We should be monitoring what’s happening in other jurisdictions and gathering the evidence, whether a fourth dose or a variation of the existing vaccines is appropriate,” said Mr Daly.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has written to the National Immunisation Advisory Committee for recommendations on the next phase of vaccinations including fourth jabs.

It is about three months since many nursing home residents received their third booster doses. Israel pointed to signs of waning immunity a few months after their third doses in deciding to proceed with four doses for people aged over 60 who are more vulnerable to Covid-19.

Last week Dr Holohan urged caution on following Israel’s move, saying that the primary function of vaccination to protect people against severe infection “has held up really well.”

He has asked NIAC to consider the scale of the next phase of the vaccination programme, including whether there needs to be booster doses across the entire population every three or four months or more targeted vaccinations for at-risk populations at shorter intervals.

“We need to tease that through carefully but quickly,” he said.

Frequent boosters

A seven-fold increase in new Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing homes to 56 in the last week puts added pressure on a quick decision on whether fourth doses are required.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told RTÉ yesterday that older people and medically vulnerable people may need a Covid-19 vaccine every year “in the way we do for flu.”

The European Medicines Agency warned last week that frequent booster shots could adversely affect the immune system and may not be feasible. It has recommended that countries should leave more time between vaccine jabs and tie them to the onset of the cold season.

Meanwhile, Nursing Homes Ireland has called for urgent action from the Government to address the staffing crisis in nursing homes as it published a new survey showing “a state of emergency” in the care home sector when it comes to recruiting and retaining staff.

The survey of 118 care homes showed the departure of more than 1,000 healthcare assistants and 300 nurses from the sector over the past year, suggesting that up to 4,000 healthcare assistance and 1,200 nurses may have left nursing homes in that time.