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Minister for Health announces updates to Ireland’s COVID-19 Vaccination Programme

The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, has announced several updates to Ireland’s COVID-19 Vaccination Programme. These updates follow recommendations made by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO). The CMO has endorsed these recommendations.

The NIAC has recommended that a booster dose of Comirnaty® (Pfizer) vaccine be offered to all those aged 60 to 79 years 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 (i.e., a breakthrough infection), the booster dose should be delayed for at least six months after the COVID-19 infection was diagnosed.

Minister Donnelly said: “The NIAC have reviewed international evidence specifically relating to vaccine efficacy in older individuals that indicated that the protection provided by vaccines against symptomatic infection substantially decreases over time in this age group after 6 months.

“Since Ireland’s Vaccination Programme began late last year, I have announced several updates of the vaccine prioritisation programme, each with the same aim - to protect those most at high risk from severe illness and death from COVID-19. The roll-out of the booster programme continues to rely on using vaccines which are safe and effective, and in doing so, means that we are continuing to prioritise our at-risk loved ones.

"I will now work with my Department and the HSE to implement these recommendations as soon as possible.”

On 04 October, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) concluded that booster doses may be considered at least 6 months after the second dose for people aged 18 years and older. In line with NIAC advice, the majority of those over 70 years will have previously received an mRNA vaccine while those aged 60-69 years substantially received the adenoviral vector vaccine Vaxzevria® (AstraZeneca). The available data on booster vaccination with an mRNA vaccine following a primary viral vector or mRNA vaccine course, show similar safety to that reported for the primary series.

Minister Donnelly concluded: “NIAC will continue to examine new evidence regarding booster doses in other groups.

“It is important that we remember that 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 reopening.

"If you display symptoms of COVID-19 like fever, dry cough and flu like symptom - isolate and get a test immediately. Continue to regularly wash hands, wear a mask when appropriate, keep your distance, open windows and ventilate indoor spaces, and choose outdoors where possible for meeting others."