New Covid-19 vaccine advice supports booster shots and inoculation at any stage of pregnancy

Further 1,789 cases of disease reported in State with 360 people being treated in hospital

Covid-19 booster shots are to be offered to immunocompromised people aged 12 and over, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced. Photograph: iStock

Covid-19 booster shots are to be offered to immunocompromised people aged 12 and over, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced. Photograph: iStock

 

Covid-19 vaccine booster shots are to be offered to immunocompromised people aged 12 and over, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.

The Minister on Wednesday announced several updates to the State’s vaccination programme, including that mRNA vaccines can be given to pregnant women at any stage of their pregnancy.

The previous advice was that pregnant women be offered mRNA shots at between 14-36 weeks’ gestation.

“The evidence shows that vaccination is the best way to protect both mother and baby from serious harm from Covid-19 and I am pleased to today announce that Covid-19 vaccination will be available at all stages of pregnancy,” Mr Donnelly said in a statement.

“I am aware that many pregnant people and their partners will have questions about this update to the vaccination programme, and I encourage anyone who has any concerns to engage with their obstetric care team and the many trusted sources of information available in order to make the best decision for you and your baby.”

These changes, which Mr Donnelly said would be implemented as soon as possible, follow recommendations made by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and endorsed by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

Growing body of evidence

“The NIAC has updated this recommendation based on the growing body of evidence on the safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccination. The evidence clearly indicates that the benefits of vaccination outweigh any known or potential risks of Covid-19 vaccination during pregnancy,” the Department of Health said.

The updated advice says a third dose of an mRNA vaccine should be given to immunocompromised people aged over 12 at least two months after they received their last dose.

Mr Donnelly said the he hoped that having a chance to receive a booster dose would bring “comfort and reassurance” to people that these vaccines are very safe and effective and offer protection from Covid-19.

“As we move into this new stage of the pandemic, it is more important than ever that all of those eligible for vaccination but who remain unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, should initiate/complete their vaccination course,” he said. “Vaccination along with our continued adherence to the public health advice we are all so familiar with are the best ways we can protect ourselves, our loves ones and our country’s re-opening.”

The changes were announced as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said there was “no urgent need” for the administration of booster doses of vaccines to fully vaccinated individuals in the general population.

In a report, it said additional doses should already be considered for people with severely weakened immune systems as part of their primary vaccination, if they do not achieve an adequate level of protection from the standard primary vaccination.

Latest cases

A further 1,789 cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State on Wednesday evening. According to the latest figures, there are 360 patients in hospital with the disease including 56 people being treated in intensive care.

Taosieach Micheál Martin earlier said the Government had received the go ahead for a Covid-19 vaccine booster campaign for immunosuppressed people, and that extra shots were also likely to be given to nursing homes residents and the over 70s “subject to advice”.

When asked about the World Health Organisation’s position on developed nations sharing vaccines with poorer countries before commencing booster campaigns, Mr Martin said the EU had been helping with the infrastructure and technology needed for third world countries to produce their own vaccines.

“Our first duty is to protect our people, but we know if we don’t vaccinate the world we are open to mutations,” he told RTÉ’s News at One.

Mr Martin also said a mooted bonus for frontline workers in recognition of their contribution during the pandemic would happen and that additional funding would be provided for such a payment, which would not come from the HSE’s budget.

When asked about the future of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), Mr Martin said its functions would be “transitioned” into Government departments over time.

One of the lessons learned from the pandemic was the significance of the field of public health, which had led to a doubling of funding and the allocation of 150 posts including the establishment of public health consultant posts, he added.

However, Mr Martin said Nphet would not continue in its present format and would cease to be a separate body. Its members were public servants and they would continue in public service and would be streamlined into the mainstream of Government, he said.

“We have to learn lessons from this pandemic,” the Taoiseach said.

Pandemic inquiry

Mr Martin said that it would be important to have an evaluation of the response of the Government to the pandemic, not an inquiry. The word inquiry suggested that someone was “out to get people”.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health on Wednesday reported a further nine Covid-19 related deaths and 1,472 positive tests.

There were 43 coronavirus deaths in the past seven days compared with 51 in the previous week.

The latest figures show 418 patients are being treated for the disease in the North’s hospitals, including 46 people in intensive care and 37 on ventilators.