About 1 million people are likely to be targeted for Covid booster shots in the State’s first sweep of the population over autumn and winter, The Irish Times has learned.
Under initial advice given by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, healthcare workers, the over-80s, residents of care facilities aged 65 and above, and those with certain medical conditions associated with suboptimal responses to the vaccines are to be targeted first.
Those aged 60-79 and people at risk of severe Covid are next on the list, but chief medical officer Tony Holohan last week told the Minister for Health that these are "preliminary proposals only", which will be updated as more information becomes available in the coming weeks.
Sources involved in planning the rollout believe it is likely about 1 million people will be covered in the first push.
However, planning is still at a preliminary stage, with several outstanding issues which could still impact the scope of the booster programme, including advice on mixing vaccines, the space between second and booster doses, and precise definitions of the cohorts to be targeted. If any departure from manufacturers’ advice is envisaged, that may also need legal examination.
Further advice from the European Medicines Agency on regulatory matters, including the interval between a second shot and a booster dose is also awaited. Precisely how boosters are delivered, and to what extent the infrastructure around mass vaccination centres is retained, also has to be mapped out. Scenarios are also being examined whereby boosters are given more widely, roughly equivalent to the 1.5 million who receive a free winter flu shot.
About 240,000 mRNA vaccines are to be delivered into the State per week in August. Discussions are under way about whether to re-run drop-in vaccine clinics, but there are significant commitments – in the region of 850,000 doses – for scheduled appointments this month.
It comes as the State secured 700,000 extra Pfizer vaccines, originally intended for Romania, through a deal organised with the European Commission. The doses are part of a shipment of 1 million agreed in principle, with work ongoing over the remaining 300,000, manufactured by Moderna.
Meanwhile, representatives of the hospitality industry will meet Government officials today. The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) chief executive Adrian Cummins said his organisation is seeking an end to the 11.30pm Covid-19 closing time rule from September. Normal trading hours would see restaurants able to open from Thursday to Saturday, until 12.30am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.
He said the RAI was seeking a roadmap for the relaxation of all guidelines and restrictions as the vaccination rollout approaches 80 to 85 per cent of adults: “We don’t want to have another 11th-hour cliff-edge at the end of August.”
The Vintners' Federation of Ireland said publicans want to see a roadmap for the full easing of restrictions and a return to "normality" before the end of the month. Chief executive Padraig Cribben said the biggest issue his members currently have is the ban on the use of bar counters for customers.
Mr Cribben said he is not looking for a “free for all”, but rather for customers to be seated at bars. Government sources played down the prospect of any changes to rules for the hospitality industry before the end of August.
As another 1,015 cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State on Tuesday, the United States added Ireland to its "level four" travel list due to rising Covid numbers, with the state department warning against travel to the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the notice for Ireland, which indicates a "very high level of Covid-19 in the country". The UK was added on July 19th, and Greece was added on Monday.