The Government has decided to extend the booster vaccination programme to protect more people who are more vulnerable to severe illness and hospitalisation from Covid-19.
It is part of a wider series of actions aimed at trying to suppress the fourth wave of infections and to prevent the health system being overrun this winter.
Why are booster vaccines needed?
Scientific evidence has shown that post-vaccination immunity starts to wane three to six months after the first doses. The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has said waning immunity along with increased social contact has caused “a large and increasing force of infection”.
What did the Government announce this week?
Booster doses are already being administered to healthcare workers and people aged 60 and over. Immunocompromised people are receiving third doses too, but they considered additional doses to strengthen their immunity against Covid-19 rather than boosters. The Government this week approved a further rollout of boosters to people aged 50 and over, those aged between 16 and 59 with underlying health conditions and all residents of long-term health facilities, irrespective of age. In all, about 2.2 million people are due to receive one.
How many have been administered so far?
About 400,000. The HSE said that, as of Tuesday, boosters had been given to about 90,000 healthcare workers, 23,600 residents of long-term residential care facilities aged 60 and over, 131,200 people aged 80 and over, 114,200 people aged between 70 and 79, and 22,200 people aged between 60 and 69. Almost 60,000 third doses have been given to the immunocompromised.
So has everyone aged 60 and over been contacted about their boosters?
Not yet. The official guidance says people must wait at least five months after their last vaccine dose, so many people aged 60 to 69 will not have reached that point yet. The HSE said they will be offered an appointment as soon as they do.
Is everyone rushing to get their boosters?
There have been reports of a slower than expected take-up due to non-attendance. The HSE has said non-attendance does not mean that people will not seek another appointment, so it is not necessarily an indication that people will not take up the option.
When will 50-somethings get their boosters?
It is not clear yet. All the HSE will say is this is being worked on “in a safe and timely manner”.
Are the boosters working?
Yes. Nphet has said that booster doses restore and even increase protection against symptomatic infection and severe disease. Prof Philip Nolan, chair of Nphet's modelling group, said that the effect of boosters on the people aged 80 and over – the first to receive boosters – has been "quite remarkable and almost immediate".
Could booster doses be rolled out to more widely?
There are no plans for that yet, though other countries – notably Israel – have used a universal booster programme to suppress a fourth wave of infections. Nphet sees other measures such as reducing social contact, working from home and basic health measures as a means of reducing transmission. Others see it differently. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said this week it appeared that the Covid-19 vaccine "is going to have to be a three-course vaccine" and that the Government will need to extend third doses to "many more people, perhaps everyone".