Over-60s should get booster shot of mRNA vaccines, says Luke O’Neill

Vaccinating children against Covid-19 unethical given global inequality, says academic

Prof Luke O’Neill speaking during a lecture at Trinity College Dublin’s Institute of Population Health. He said the world would exit the Covid-19 pandemic when more than 80% of its population was protected against the virus through vaccination or infection. Photograph: Paul Sharp/Sharppix

Prof Luke O’Neill speaking during a lecture at Trinity College Dublin’s Institute of Population Health. He said the world would exit the Covid-19 pandemic when more than 80% of its population was protected against the virus through vaccination or infection. Photograph: Paul Sharp/Sharppix

 

Everyone over 60 should be given a third shot of an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, according to leading scientist Prof Luke O’Neill.

However, vaccinating children is “unethical” at the moment, given the inequity in the distribution of vaccines across the world, the Trinity College Dublin biochemist said.

Older people need to be given another shot because of evidence, principally in research from Israel, of waning immunity from the original course of vaccines, he said.

But Prof O’Neill said vaccinating Irish people in their 60s was especially justified because this group were unfairly required to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is less effective than mRNA vaccines.

A recent study in the UK showed the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine at preventing Covid-19 infection fell from 88 per cent in the month after the second dose to 74 per cent after five to six months, while for the AstraZeneca vaccine, efficacy fell from 77 per cent to 67 cent after four to five months.

A third shot of vaccine will massively upgrade the immune system of recipients and may provide protection for years, Prof O’Neill told an event in TCD.

The world will exit the Covid-19 pandemic when more than 80 per cent of its population is protected against the virus through vaccination or infection, or a combination of both, he said.

With so many people around the world still to get access to Covid-19 vaccines, Prof O’Neill said he would not give additional doses to under-60s. However, it is ethical to give a third vaccine to those at severe risk.

The HSE said on Thursday an additional dose of vaccine is being offered to people aged 12 and over, whose immune system is weakened.

This includes those with specific underlying health conditions or who are undergoing specific treatments meaning they are immunocompromised or immunosuppressed and have a reduced response to the vaccine.

Hospitals will identify those who need the additional dose of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines, which will be given at HSE vaccination centres or hospitals, and also in GP surgeries.

Appointments begin this week for those aged 16 and over.