Taoiseach ‘concerned’ about welfare of frontline healthcare staff as Niac considers boosters

Harris says he is surprised at lack of decision on Covid-19 booster shots for healthcare staff

Taoiseach Micheál Martin pictured on Wednesday at a press briefing on funding of Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martin pictured on Wednesday at a press briefing on funding of Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the Government is “concerned” about the welfare of frontline healthcare workers and that the State’s immunisation body will keep the matter of boosters for this group under review.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) this week approved the extension of Covid-19 booster shots to people over the age of 60.

“In terms of healthcare workers, that’s an issue that they have said they will keep under examination and review,” Mr Martin said on Wednesday morning.

“It is an issue of concern.”

“We are worried about health care workers who are in the frontline. And there’s increasing evidence of potentially hospital acquired infection because of the higher prevalence now of the virus in the community at large. When that happens it tends to manifest itself in healthcare settings as well, which places staff in in more difficult situations.”

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris expressed “surprise” at the absence of a decision from Niac on the matter.

“It surprises me that we don’t yet have a positive recommendation in relation to a booster programme for healthcare workers, but I also know we’ve been very well served by our vaccination programme and in general by taking medical and clinical advice in relation to things...

“Niac are considering the issue and will keep the issue under review,” he told the Pat Kenny Show.

Widespread campaign

Mr Martin welcomed the decision to offer boosters to people over the age of 60 and said there was a clear sense in the EU that a widespread booster campaign will become part of the fight against Covid-19.

“In terms of the booster campaign I think it’s good that Niac have made a recommendation, something I welcome in relation to over 60s. I know at European Union level, and the EMA have made the point, that people over 18 can receive a booster after six months of their second dose having been administered.

“Clearly the European Union when it went into a pre-purchase agreement for the next two years, of hundreds of millions of vaccines to be procured through Pfizer, clearly see ahead in terms of the application of a booster vaccine to a wider population as we evolve through the pandemic. They see it as part of the medium term.”

The Taoiseach said the success of Ireland’s vaccination programme was partially thanks to a sense that there is professional clinical expertise underpinning the campaign.

“I think the National Immunisation Advisory Committee have advised consistently from the outset in respect of vaccination. We have achieved 93 per (of people) fully vaccinated, which is an extraordinary achievement globally. And I think we have to accept that illustrates that people have confidence in the vaccination program. One of the reasons people have confidence in the vaccination program is that sense that there’s professional clinical expertise underpinning decisions around the administration of the vaccine.

“And I think we have to obviously retain that structure and edifice and that’s why it’s important that we defer to Niac in terms of its advice.”

The Health Service Executive will begin administering booster vaccines to more than 800,000 people aged between 60 and 80 at the start of November.

Most over-70s are likely to be given boosters in their local GP surgery, while those aged between 60 and 70 are likely to get them in mass vaccination centres.

Officials are currently working on the details of the rollout of the boosters, which was approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday. Officials say that with two million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in stock, supply in not an issue.

However, some people in this age cohort will have to wait for the vaccine, as six months will have to have elapsed since they received their second, regular dose of Covid-19 vaccine.