Ireland has vaccines ‘sitting in fridges and freezers’ and should extend the booster programme to younger people as soon as possible, according to immunology expert Kingston Mills.
He was speaking after a new study found that protection from the Pfizer vaccine begins to wane after just three months and decreases over time.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Professor Mills said Ireland’s booster programme is not moving fast enough.
“We have stocks of vaccines in fridges and freezers and I would prefer to see those being administered as quickly as possible and to extend the boosters to younger age groups as well because there are significant numbers of cases,” he said.
“If you look at the case numbers right now, the dominant numbers are in the younger population, not older, so that is where the spread of virus is occurring.”
Under the latest NIAC advice, people who were vaccinated with Pfizer, Moderna or Astrazeneca should not get a booster until at least five months and ideally six months after they were deemed fully vaccinated.
People are deemed fully vaccinated one week after second shot for Pfizer, two weeks after second shot for Moderna and 15 days after the second shot for AstraZeneca.
People who get the single-shot Janssen vaccine can get their booster three months after being deemed fully vaccinated – which is two weeks after getting the shot.
Professor Mills said the new Pfizer study calls that five-month period into question.
“It was originally six months and the reason for that was the clinical trials were done at a six-month gap and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had recommended a six-month interval,” he said.
“So, it was coming from the EMA and that’s why NIAC recommended initially six months and then it was dropped it to five.
“There is some benefit of having a longer interval because it allows the antibody response - the molecules that protect us - to develop better and have a broader specific but I wouldn’t imagine there is a huge difference between four, five or six months so to me, I would reduce that interval to four months and try and get people vaccinated as quick as possible.”
Currently people over the age of 50, people who are immunocompromised and people with underlying health conditions are all eligible for a booster.
On Newstalk Breakfast yesterday, the HSE’s National Lead for the Vaccination Programme Damien McCallion said the different cohorts will be vaccinated in parallel to allow for the different intervals.
People with underlying conditions - a group that accounted for 81% of the COVID-related ICU admissions between June 27th an October 31st – should begin receiving their boosters next week.
Meanwhile the EMA is due to make a decision on vaccines for children as young as five-years-old this afternoon.
Professor Mills said NIAC will then have to weigh up the benefits versus the risks before approving the job for young children in Ireland.
“I think it is up to every parent,” he said. “Vaccines have never been mandatory in this country so it is up to every parent to weigh up the benefits versus the risk. They should do it based on informed scientific evidence rather than just speculation.
“The good thing for Ireland is that the US and Israel are charging ahead and if there were big issues there, we would know about it.
“The clinical trials were done in children and there are some side effects as there are with all vaccines – none of them were very serious.
“On balance, the risk of getting the vaccine is less than the risk of getting COVID.
“In most children it is very mild but for some it can persist for months. A study in the UK found that 2% of children has symptoms for greater than two months and 4% for greater than a month.
“So, it’s not insignificant and there could be a long-COVID syndrome in a small number of children as well.”
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