Ministers have been told that 100,000 Covid-19 vaccines expired in the last week amid slowing demand for vaccines, with up to half a million set to go out of date in the next fortnight unless demand increases.
While 2.6 million booster doses have been administered in recent weeks as part of an accelerated rollout, Cabinet was warned today that there has been a “significant slowing” in demand for boosters in recent weeks, especially among younger people.
The doses that are set to expire were given out to GP surgeries, pharmacies and mass vaccination centres during December.
There is an estimated uptake of between 40 per cent and 66 per cent in the 18-49 age group, Cabinet was told. This is despite a range of efforts to drive uptake rolled out in recent weeks, which will be redoubled in the coming days even amid widespread relaxation of restrictions.
These include targeted measures aimed at areas with poor uptake, and specific regional advertisements. An immunocompromised vaccine campaign is also to be launched, while further pop-up GP clinics in third-level institutions are being planned.
Meanwhile, Ministers were told that 23 per cent of five- to 11-year-olds have been registered to date for their vaccine, with 80,000 out of an estimated population of 482,000 having received their first dose.
However, the rate of registration has also slowed among this age group in the last week. As reported this week by The Irish Times, the expectation is now that this phase of the booster programme will extend into April – perhaps even longer, with the efforts to drive uptake among those who were diagnosed with Covid from mid-December onwards.
These people are currently not advised to seek a booster shot, until they are three months past their diagnosis. The Cabinet was told that this phase will be “both complex and expensive to deliver” with further risk that vaccines will go off, thanks to volatile levels of weekly demand for shots and differing geographic access to vaccines.
Ireland has among the highest rates of vaccine penetration among its adult population, with 94.8 per cent of adults having completed their primary vaccine course. The country is third in Europe in terms of booster vaccine rollout.
Separately, tens of thousands of people could face additional difficulties in travelling overseas from the start of next month, as their digital Covid cert will not be accepted anymore.
Cabinet was told today that almost 45,000 people have a primary vaccination certificate that will expire by February 1st, but who have not yet received a booster or a had a recent Covid infection confirmed by a PCR test.
From that date, people must have had a booster or confirmed Covid infection within the last nine months in order to be eligible for a digital Covid cert. While travel within the EU is, strictly speaking, allowed without a cert, it can be arduous and complex.
Among the 45,000 people will be a certain number who died since receiving their second shot, but many more may have been caught out by a quirk of testing rules introduced as the State’s PCR capacity was exhausted out over Christmas.
Under those rules, people aged between four and 39 were asked to take regular antigen tests before booking a PCR test, and in many instances would not have received a confirmed PCR test result.