Thousands of people in their 60s will not get their Covid-19 booster shot until early next year, leaving them with waning immunity to infection during some of the worst winter months.
The Government yesterday extended booster shots to people in their 60s and 70s.
But there will need to be a minimum gap of five months – ideally six months – between the full vaccination dose and the booster.
It means that many of the estimated 460,000 people aged 60 to 69, most of whom waited until mid to late-July or early August for a second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine, will not get their booster jab until January or February. The decision to extend the booster jab to people in their 60s and 70s was made earlier this week by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).
The experts decided at this point, not to include healthcare workers in the booster roll-out based on the scientific evidence which guides them – although they are under pressure to include them by the Government and unions.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said yesterday: “Niac has recommended that a booster dose of Pfizer vaccine be offered to all those aged 60 to 79 who have completed their primary course with any Covid-19 vaccine.
“The booster dose should ideally be given six months – with a minimum interval of five months – following completion of the primary vaccination schedule.
“If a person in a group for whom a booster dose is recommended has had laboratory confirmed Covid-19 infection after a completed primary vaccine course – that is a breakthrough infection – the booster dose should be delayed for at least six months after the Covid-19 infection was diagnosed.”
A spokesperson for the HSE said: “The HSE will develop an operational plan for commencement of the additional booster population over the next ten days.
“It is progressing well with the vaccination of the third primary dose for immunocompromised and booster doses for long-term care residents over 65 and people aged over 80.
“Over 45,000 immunocompromised people have been referred with over 18,000 having already received their third primary dose and over 100,000 booster doses have been administered.”
Asked where people in their 60s and 70s will get the booster – GP surgeries or vaccination centres – the spokesperson said: ”The HSE is currently working to operationalise the new guidance, and will utilise a combination of vaccination channels.”
Asked how long it will take to roll the booster out, she said: “An estimated timescale will be worked out during the planning for this phase of the roll-out.”
Commenting on the five to six-month gap for the 60 to 69 age group, Prof Kingston Mills of Trinity College said Niac appeared to be following guidelines from the European Medicines Agency.
But he believed a booster could given within three or four months. Childhood vaccines were given at two, four and six month intervals, he pointed out.