Failure to fully vaccinate all aged 60-69 ‘a travesty’ says Prof Luke O’Neill

Children should not be vaccinated yet as virus benign for under-18s except in exceptional cases, immunologist says

Prof Luke O’Neill said over-60s who received the AstraZeneca vaccine should have received their second dose by now. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Prof Luke O’Neill said over-60s who received the AstraZeneca vaccine should have received their second dose by now. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw


The failure to fully vaccinate all the 60- to 69-year-old cohort is “a travesty”, immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill has said.

Over-60s who received the AstraZeneca vaccine should have received their second dose by now, the professor of biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin told RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Claire Byrne show on Wednesday.

But he added they should have been given an mRNA vaccine for their second dose. “I feel they should be mixing the vaccines.”

Those aged 60 to 69 differ from other age groups in that, by and large, they are being administered the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Prof O’Neill predicted that when booster vaccines are given they will be mRNA vaccines as it will have a stronger response.

“It would be sensible to give Pfizer as a second dose. I don’t understand why they’re not mixing,” he said. The two key issues this winter will be ventilation and booster shots, he added.

Prof O’Neill also said the digital travel cert made sense but that it depended where people were going as there were still some countries where the virus was rampant. “Common sense should prevail,” he said.

With regard to indoor dining, ventilation would be the “big thing” he said. If a premises could set up a good ventilation system then that needed to be “upper most”.

The Department of Education’s plan to provide carbon dioxide monitors to all schools was a great idea, he said.

The virus was spread through the air, and if there was good ventilation then that was a “good de-risker”, he added.

If the virus were spread by water, then water-filtration systems would be used, he said, adding the same should be the case with Covid-19 as it was spread through the air and ventilation would work.

Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland
8,557,330 7,277,224

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
459 74

Covid-19 was a preventable disease and vaccination worked, with better ventilation and antigen testing key measures, he said.

When asked about plans for the easing of restrictions in Britain, Prof O’Neill said he felt that was moving too quickly.

“They are going a bit too fast there. The risk of long Covid is still a reality.”

Britain was taking a gamble, he said. “They might get away with it. It will inform us when we see what is happening there, we can react.”

Prof O’Neill said he did not think that children under the age of 12 should be vaccinated but that instead the vaccines should go to the developing world as the virus was benign for the under-18s except in exceptional cases.

“Ultimately we will vaccinate children, but now is not the time.”

There will be other variants, he warned but noted vaccines offered some protection. Very often viruses would become benign as they don’t want to kill their host. “They’re a parasite.”

Earlier, the HSE’s chief clinical officer, Colm Henry, described the vaccination programme as a flood wall defence that no matter how strong, could be breached if Covid case numbers rise.

“We’re building a flood wall, it is not completely unbreachable, but it is a big defence for us,” Dr Henry told Newstalk Breakfast. The more people who were vaccinated the stronger the defence, he said.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan on Tuesday night noted “a small but concerning” increase in hospitalisations in recent days, which followed on from a rise in average daily case numbers over the last 10 to 14 days as the variant took hold.

Fifty-four people, including 16 in intensive care, were being treated in hospital for the disease yesterday, up from 39 a fortnight ago.

Dr Henry said the Delta variant was more transmissible and it was too early to tell what the rates of hospitalisation would be.

In the UK last week the rate of admissions rose by 30 per cent while the number of cases rose 50 per cent. In Scotland the numbers in ICU rose from nine to 35.

“If the flood gets high enough the walls will be breached,” Dr Henry said.

He urged everyone to avail of the vaccine and pointed out that people aged 18 to 34 had the choice of registering for vaccination through a pharmacist or to go through the vaccination portal which, would extend to the 18-24 age group by mid-August.

The risk of any side-effects were minimal, he said, but he urged people to read the details on the HSE website. He added the risks from side effects were better than the risk of Covid. There had been only seven cases of side effects from the vaccine in Ireland, and all had made a full recovery.

Dr Henry said it was anticipated that by the end of August everyone who wanted to be vaccinated will have been so.

The level of herd immunity required was likely to rise because of the transmissibility of the Delta variant, with that level likely to be 80 per cent to 85 per cent, Dr Henry said.

Ireland was ahead of many other countries in terms of vaccine uptake, he said, which would help the country escape from the virus. “The vaccine programme gives us a way out.”

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