Waning vaccine immunity a factor in rising Covid-19 cases, Mills says

Jabs to be offered on student campuses next week in drive to inoculate younger people

Vaccinations will be offered at Maynooth University and other institutions. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Vaccinations will be offered at Maynooth University and other institutions. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Waning Covid-19 vaccine immunity is contributing to an increase in cases of the disease among older age groups, Trinity College Dublin immunologist Prof Kingston Mills has said.

He said infections were now re-emerging in cohorts of the population who received their vaccine doses more than six months ago. He said the case is “very strong” for administering booster shots to over 60s who received the AstraZeneca vaccine and to healthcare workers vaccinated early in the campaign.

“There is a very strong argument for boosting people now. There is no scientific reason why that should be a problem,” he told RTÉ’s Saturday with Katie Hannon.

Prof Mills said Ireland’s proximity to the UK, and especially to Northern Ireland, where Covid-19 numbers are “out of control” could also account for some of the rise in cases in the State.

“The UK’s attempts to control the pandemic are very poor and we are paying slightly the penalty for that,” he said.

“We are a very sociable country. We like to socialise and a lot of the transmission is in social settings and workplaces, but this is complete speculation.”

Certificates

He was “absolutely in favour” of retaining Covid-19 certificates for pub and restaurant access and expanding their use to include lecture theatres in universities and sporting and music events.

“If you allow large numbers of unvaccinated people to mingle indoors, you are asking for trouble. That is exactly what is going to happen if we open up nightclubs without Covid certificates,” he warned.

When Israel gave a booster shot to people it had vaccinated early, the efficacy of the vaccine went from 50 per cent to 95 per cent, hee said.

“They really do work in boosting response,” he said.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall told the same programme there was a shortage of information about the rise in case numbers which had left the public “baffled” as to why it was happening given more than 90 per cent of the adult population was vaccinated.

She also criticised the lack of emphasis on ventilation which she said was proven to be a mitigating factor against the spread of Covid-19.

Green Party TD Nessa Hourigan said people should avoid restaurants or pubs if they are not asked for their Covid-19 vaccine certificates on arrival. She said if people are not asked for them, there is a good chance they will be sharing space with unvaccinated people.

Third-level

Meanwhile, Covid-19 vaccinations are to be offered at a number of third-level education centres next week in a drive to get more students inoculated against the disease.

Of the 9 per cent of adults in the State yet to receive a vaccine, some 28 per cent are in the 17 to 29 age group, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said.

“We have to ensure we do everything we can to offer students the opportunity to get vaccinated, protect themselves and protect their college communities,” he said.

The initiative has been announced amid concern over a rise in Covid-19 case numbers and high test positivity rates in the last 10 days or so, with unvaccinated people accounting for a significant proportion of those needing hospital and intensive care treatment for the disease.

A recent drive saw pop-up vaccination centres open at 15 higher education sites and some 3,000 students received a vaccine, with 53 per cent having a first dose, Mr Harris said.

From Monday, vaccinations will be offered at Maynooth University; TU Dublin (Blanchardstown, Grangegorman and Tallaght); Dublin City University; Trinity College Dublin; University of Limerick; NUI Galway; Munster Technological University; University College Cork; Technological University of the Shannon (Limerick Campus); and Mary Immaculate College. Vaccines will also be available to students at centres in Sligo, Letterkenny, UCD, Carlow, Tralee, Dundalk and Moate.

Antigen tests

Mr Harris on Friday met stakeholders to discuss the return to on-site teaching, research and study this semester and said rapid antigen testing pilot schemes would be extended to seven third level campuses in the coming week.

The sites selected are the University of Limerick; Waterford Institute of Technology; Dublin Business School; Griffith College; St Nicholas’ Montessori College Cavan; Monaghan ETB’s Further Education and Training Campus in Cavan; and Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

“Rapid testing does not replace our public health advice to wear a mask and keep washing your hands, but it could be an additional weapon in our fight against Covid-19 in the future,” the Minister said. “Antigen self-testing is performed twice a week and tests can easily be completed yourself at home. After completing your test, you report your results online using the HSE Report Antigen Result website.

“Colleges are asking for volunteers to take part, and I really would encourage staff and students to participate and help us keep rolling out our plans for a safe and sustainable reopening of campuses and society.”