The over-60s awaiting full vaccination: ‘We are the next nursing home debacle’

Sean Ó Riain (62) says he is still cocooning as many 60-69-year-olds remain vulnerable

A health worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. File photograph: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP via Getty Images

A health worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. File photograph: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP via Getty Images

 

“We are the next nursing home debacle, just waiting to happen,” says 62-year-old Sean Ó Riain of the situation his age group finds itself in as many of them continue to wait to be fully vaccinated.

“No one seems to have grasped that there is a cohort of people aged 60 to 69 who are scared s**tless of Covid-19 and the Delta variant,” says Ó Riain, who got a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine eight weeks ago and hasn’t heard when he will get a second dose.

Ó Riain has survived a heart attack and two bouts of cancer. His wife also has underlying conditions. But neither has been fully vaccinated yet, while all around them younger people have received their two doses.

He lists the examples: “My neighbour, who is 51, was fully vaccinated a month ago. My sister-in-law, who is 67, got her second dose yesterday, but her next-door neighbour, at 52, was fully vaccinated six weeks ago. A work colleague has been done and he’s only 48.”

On foot of recommendations by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, people in their 60s are being immunised with two shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The interval between doses of this vaccine was 12 weeks but this has just been reduced to four.

In contrast, the immunisation of 50-somethings with two doses of the Pfizer jab at a four-week interval is largely complete, and people in their 30s are currently being offered vaccines.

Barely one-quarter of people in their 60s were fully vaccinated at the end of last month, compared with more than 65 per cent of those in their 50s.

Delta threat

The AstraZeneca vaccine protects people effectively against serious illness from Covid-19 but works less well in protecting people against infection by the Delta variant, particularly after only one shot.

With one study showing a single dose of the AstraZeneca jab offering only 33 per cent efficacy against infection by the variant, Ó Riain asserts that one dose of the vaccine leaves people largely unprotected.

As a result, he has decided to continue cocooning. “I haven’t visited the office since March 14th, 2020, and haven’t hugged my daughters since the pandemic started.”

People in their 60s were railroaded into having to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, he claims. “Ministers stood up in the Dáil and said we’d have to wait, even up to the end of the year, if we didn’t accept what was being offered. So I took it because I was a scared citizen.”

Like many others in his age group, he would prefer to get a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This is allowed and even encouraged in many countries, but not in Ireland.

While acknowledging he is “privileged” to live in Ireland, where the vaccine supply is much better than in, say, India or South Africa, he believes the issues faced by his peer group have been given only cursory attention, compared with the coverage of issues in relation to the reopening of hospitality.

“No one ever died because they didn’t get a nice meal in a restaurant. And yet that was the only story last week, not the vulnerability of 60-69-year-olds.

“If there is going to be an exponential rise in hospitalisations and deaths, it’s going to be among 60-69-year-olds.”

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