Coronavirus vaccine boosters expected to be approved for over-60s

‘Thunderbirds are go’ once Niac advice given, says Government source

Over-60s would receive shots in their GP surgeries, while mass-vaccination centres could be restarted before the end of the month. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA

Over-60s would receive shots in their GP surgeries, while mass-vaccination centres could be restarted before the end of the month. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA

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The Government expects to begin an expanded Covid-19 vaccine booster campaign targeting hundreds of thousands of people within days of receiving advice on which additional groups should be given another dose.

Senior Government sources anticipate that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), which is to meet on Monday, will give the go ahead for people aged over 60 to receive a booster dose, as well as frontline healthcare workers.

“As soon as advice is given, it’s Thunderbirds are go,” a Government source said on Friday.

Coalition leaders are anxious to receive the Niac advice as soon as possible, with the HSE confident that currently reduced deliveries of vaccine will resume in line with demand.

Over-60s would receive shots in their GP surgeries, while mass-vaccination centres could be restarted before the end of the month. Staff from the centres are currently vaccinating workers and residents in nursing homes, while the over-80s are being given boosters at GP surgeries .

The coalition is anxious to push ahead with an extensive booster campaign in the face of a deteriorating Covid situation, which is putting increasing pressure on hospitals already dealing with winter illness and backlogs, as well as regular, scheduled care.

However, while a mass booster campaign would help suppress the virus in the medium term, there are also concerns that it would not be fast-acting enough, nor address the issue of the 370,000 unvaccinated and partially vaccinated cohorts where infection is currently building.

There is increasing concern in Government circles that the virus will force a rethink or a pause of the planned reopening scheduled for October 22nd. The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meets on Monday to discuss its advice for cabinet.

Government sources said they believe that the situation is “definitely trending in the wrong direction” as they were updated with new data on Friday, but that a transient increase in cases should not be a surprise given restrictions have been eased in recent weeks and months.

Ministers are waiting for the State’s public health team to give their advice on Monday but some were fearful Nphet would recommend pausing the next phase of easing of restrictions out of an “abundance of caution”. There is a fear this pause could last longer than is intended if the prevalence of the disease remains stubbornly high.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Friday the Government will not be “pushing the panic button” but will be watching the situation closely.

“There is not a whole lot left to reopen and behaviour is now a factor. I think we will be looking at vaccination certs, for example.”

There is ongoing uncertainty over precisely what measures will be recommended by Nphet next week.

Alongside an outright pause of planned easings of restrictions , it is thought options to be considered by Nphet will include the retention of distancing measures in indoor settings such as bars and restaurants across winter, allied to some increases in capacity in theatres and cinemas. Meanwhile, a structured reopening of still-closed sectors may be favoured, again with retention of vaccination certs.

There was some unhappiness in Government and business circles over remarks made by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn in a video on Friday. He asked that people “work from home where possible over this autumn and winter”. Current Government guidance is attendance at workplaces may commence on a phased basis. Government sources worried about mixed messaging, while Neil McDonnell of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association , said it was an “unhelpful” and “unstructured musing”. Of the video, seemingly shot in the Department of Health, one Government source remarked Dr Glynn “didn’t appear to be WFH [working from home] himself”.

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