Public health advice expected this month on Covid boosters for teenagers

About 80 per cent of eligible people have received vaccine booster dose, Nphet says

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is expected to issue a recommendation on booster vaccinations for teenagers in the next two or three weeks, public health officials have said.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) said that in “broad terms”, it is satisfied with the level of protection in place against Covid-19 in the State.

Speaking at a meeting of the Oireachtas Health Committee on Wednesday, Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer, said demand for booster vaccines has decreased since the record rush experienced over the Christmas and New Year period.

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“There are a variety of reasons for that. We think that if you take the proportion of people who have been boosted and then the proportion of people who can’t be boosted because they’ve been recently infected… we estimate that about 80 per cent of all those eligible to be boosted have been boosted,” he said.

“That compares very favourably internationally, but again there is a proportion of people out there who haven’t taken the opportunity to [get boosted].”

There is currently no recommendation for booster vaccines for those in the 12 to 15 year old cohort, he said, adding that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is currently examining the issue.

“There’s a lot to weigh up there so we’ll wait to hear back from them. I think we would expect something certainly in the next two to three weeks, I think, we’d expect a recommendation from them either way on this.”

On the remaining restrictions in schools, Dr Glynn said public health officials are reviewing evidence about mask-wearing for primary schools and will make a recommendation on it later this month.

Asked about the difference between pubs and schools, Dr Glynn said a “key part” of the rationale is to give all children in primary schools an opportunity to be vaccinated. In pubs, all adults have been given this opportunity, he added.

To date, over 100,000 children have been vaccinated in the State.

Professor Philip Nolan said the most recent wave of infection saw case numbers track the more pessimistic end of modelling figures.

“The vaccines didn’t hold up a lot of protection against getting infected with Omicron. But the vaccines exceeded expectations in terms of the their protection against severely ill and requiring clinical care,” he said.

“The most important thing was in terms of critical care admissions and we were well ahead of the optimistic [scenario]. It was a critical step when Omicron was coming that the decision was made to accelerate the booster programme.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said Nphet is working on a long-term plan for vaccination and for testing and tracing as the emergency phase of the pandemic comes to an end.

“We don’t anticipate that we’re going to be advising the need to test every individual, irrespective of the severity of the symptoms, and irrespective of how vulnerable they, individually, might be to the disease itself,” he said.

On vaccination, Dr Holohan added that it could be a situation whereby “the topping up of one’s vaccination is for the purpose of preventing severe infection and it may well be that that recommendation is not focused on the whole population but people with particular vulnerabilities.”