Q&A: As people queue for booster vaccines, when can I get mine?

Almost 630,000 booster doses have been administered, many to older people and healthcare workers

 

It’s been months since I was vaccinated against Covid-19 and so I would like to get a booster. Can I get one now?
Generally, boosters are being administered to more vulnerable groups at present. Announcements have been made about their provision to younger people, but this won’t be happening for some time.

There were long queues at the Citywest vaccination centre in Dublin on Saturday due to heavy demand from walk-in clients in addition to those who had booked appointments.

So far, almost 630,000 booster doses have been administered, many to older people and healthcare workers. The older people cohort have been done, administration of boosters to healthcare workers, people with underlying conditions and in long-term residential facilities is ongoing, and the coverage of people aged 60-69 has begun.

But I’m in my 50s. I thought our age group were approved for boosters?
Yes, the Government has approved boosters for all adults, but the recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) for people to be taken in order of reverse age, ie, 50-59 year olds to be followed by 40-49 year olds, and so on has yet to be “operationalised” by the HSE.

As mentioned above, people with underlying conditions of any age are being boosted at present.

No one is being taken until at least five months after they received their second shot of the primary vaccine course, so younger people would not be eligible yet for a booster. Many got their initial vaccine only in the autumn.

The HSE says it expects to start providing boosters to people in their 50s from mid-December. People in their 40s are likely to be given the extra dose from January, and so on. This timeline could improve if the weekly throughput can be increased. About 190,000 boosters were given out in the week before last.

Business seems to have picked up in the vaccination centres since then, though
Certainly. Just a few weeks ago, staff in some centres were reporting no-show rates of up to 50 per cent. Some of this was down to people with vaccine centre appointments having already obtained their booster from their GP, and being unable to inform the HSE they would not be coming for their appointment. That problem has been fixed, so that a person who gets a text offering a booster appointment can text back “reject”.

Now there are far fewer no-shows, and the queues are back at some centres. The emergence of the Omicron variant, the continuing high level of infections and the imminence of Christmas are all likely factors.

I got the one-shot Janssen vaccine. Isn’t there a particular problem with its effectiveness?
Yes, the protection it offers against infection wanes rapidly. For that reason, Niac has recommended 236,000 people aged 16 and up who received the Janssen vaccine should be eligible for a booster after three months, not the five-six months recommended for other, two-shot vaccines.

Niac also said Janssen recipients should be offered a booster “irrespective of their age”.

The Department of Health then said: “in the case of those 16-39 year olds who received Covid-19 vaccine Janssen as their primary vaccine, they can be offered a booster dose irrespective of their age after a minimum three-month interval”. No mention was made of Janssen recipients aged 40 and up.

That’s a bit confusing?
Seems so. The department has been asked by The Irish Times to clarify matters but hasn’t done so yet. The HSE has sought its own clarification from Niac and, on the basis of that, expects to start giving boosters to people who got Janssen and who are in their 50s from mid-December, along with the rest of this age group. For many, this will be long after the recommended three-month interval.

And what about my kids? When will they be vaccinated?
Niac will make a decision presently on administering a booster to 12-15 year olds. Last week, the European Medicines Agency gave the green light to vaccinating five-11 year olds with the Pfizer vaccine. That decision has first to be authorised by the Irish regulatory authorities and added to the HSE’s schedule for general vaccine rollout.

The first consignment of 140,000 doses for children is due to arrive in Ireland just before Christmas and they will likely be administered starting early in 2022.

So what do I need to do to get boosted?
You’ll be texted an appointment when your age category is being dealt with. About 57,000 boosters have been put in the arms of 60-69 year olds, so there are plenty more to be done in this age category. If you’re in the right age group and you don’t want to wait, go to one of the walk-in clinics offered by the HSE.