Vaccine boosters not to be given to under-40s ‘any time soon’ says Holohan

Pharmacists call to be involved booster vaccine rollout saying exlusion ‘makes no sense’

Dr Holohan said that it was a fair assumption that booster shot campaign would not be extended to the under-40s ‘any time soon’, but that it would go ahead for vulnerable groups.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Dr Holohan said that it was a fair assumption that booster shot campaign would not be extended to the under-40s ‘any time soon’, but that it would go ahead for vulnerable groups. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has said that there are no plans to extend the vaccine booster programme to the under-40s “any time soon”, but that it will go ahead for vulnerable groups.

There was not any evidence about waning immunity for young people and that included healthcare workers, he said. The issue would remain under review by the National Immunisation Advisory committee (Niac).

Speaking on he told RTÉ radio’s Today show Dr Holohan denied that he was “anti” antigen tests. “It’s not the test I dislike, it’s how it’s applied.”

“Our nearest neighbours, the UK, are probably the most prolific users of antigen tests, and have the greatest challenge in terms of infection that the Western world has seen”, he said.

Dr Holohan said he was particularly concerned about cases where parents were using the tests when they had symptomatic children and when there was a negative result they then sent the children to school.

Any one with symptoms should stay at home and get a PCR test, he urged.

There had been a significant change in collective behaviour in recent times and there was now going to have to be a focus on reducing the levels of transmission of the virus in the community, he continued.

The vaccine was continuing to protect people from serious illness and hospitalisation, but it was only one tool and other tools such as public health guidelines on mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing and ventilation were required, he said.

Anything that could be done to improve compliance should happen, he said. It could take only a slight improvement or shift in collective adherence to ensure a shift in transmission levels.

Dr Holohan said that while it was not mandatory, the guidance was that people presenting Covid certs should also present identification. If people were not asked for their cert they should not return to that premises.

‘Not a safe environment’

“That’s not a safe environment. Irish people are not great at complaining. You should be asked for ID and a telephone number.”

The reopening of venues this weekend would mean more social contact, so he called on people to be mindful of their personal behaviour and not to put other people at risk. If they had any symptoms then they should not be going out.

Nobody wanted to go back to the “crude” measures of restrictions, he said.

Even with the high levels of vaccination there were still risks with the high levels of transmission and there was a need to do everything possible to reduce those levels, added Dr Holohan.

Three weeks ago, he said, he did not think that the situation would be as it now is. It was important that the reopening should be in accordance with guidelines to keep people safe.

There will be pragmatic guidelines for nightclubs based on advice from other countries. The virus needed only the opportunity of people meeting closely to transmit and at present it was getting too many chances to transmit. Risky forms of behaviour needed to be limited.

When asked if he would invite an unvaccinated person to his home for Christmas dinner, Dr Holohan said that unvaccinated people posed an increased risk of catching and transmitting the virus and the opportunity was still there to be vaccinated. “It’s important to protect yourself and those you love.”

Dr Holohan also acknowledged that there was “a small number” of cases of the AY.4.2 Covid subvariant in the country. “We have the capacity to track those cases, it is not something about which we are raising alarm or concern at this point in time”.

Ultimately, Dr Holohan said, he would like the country to be in a situation where the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) was not needed.

“Alas the disease has taken a turn that we didn’t want it to take” he said and as CMO he needed the experts across a range of disciplines to help make a balanced and fair assessment of the situation for him to pass on to the Minister for Health.

Booster vaccine campaign

Pharmacists, meanwhile, should be involved in the rollout of the booster vaccine campaign, the general-secretary of the Irish Pharmacy Union has said.

Darragh O’Loughlin said pharmacists had been included in the original plans as vaccinators but were not included until the summer.

“When we did start vaccinating we saw tremendous demand from people to get their vaccine in a local pharmacy - pharmacies were inundated with people looking to get vaccinated,” he told Newstalk’s Breakfast Briefing.

Niac this week approved the extension of Covid-19 booster shots to people over the age of 60.

A number of prominent GPs have criticised the HSE’s plan to rely on family doctors for administering boosters to older patients.

However, plans announced on Wednesday did not contain any reference to pharmacies, Mr O’Loughlin said.

A number of prominent GPs have criticised the HSE’s plan to rely on family doctors for administering boosters to older patients.

Navan GP Ruairí Hanley said the system “cannot cope” with providing boosters to everyone aged over 60 in the coming months.

“That will simply prove impossible in the context of flu season and the existing pressures on the system,” he told The Irish Times on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Mr O’Loughlin said it would make perfect sense for pharmacies to be involved in the booster programme as there are 1,000 pharmacies in the country delivering the vaccine every week with people still coming forward every day to get vaccinated,.

“It makes no sense that as we move into the booster phase of the programme we wouldn’t be involved in delivering those boosters”.

“It looks like GPs are going to be expected to pick up the bulk of the work - despite the fact that the GP system is already under such pressure - and vaccination centres will be used as well.

“We obviously aren’t saying vaccination centres shouldn’t be used, and we aren’t saying GPs shouldn’t be involved. We’re just saying that in a programme of this size and a campaign of this size, where we will want 800,000 people between the ages of 60 upwards to get vaccinated with a booster dose, it makes no sense to exclude 1,000 vaccination locations around the country”.

Meanwhile, oncologist Prof Seamus O’Reilly, speaking on Morning Ireland, called for a targeted social media campaign to encourage the unvaccinated.

Such a campaign had been undertaken by CervicalCheck and he felt it would help to address the concerns of the unvaccinated rather than berate them.

The virus was going to be an issue for years to come as new variants emerged worldwide.

This means vaccination programmes have to be accelerated, he said, otherwise waiting lists were going to grow as care was diverted to Covid cases.