Major jab Fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose could be delivered along with the flu shot
"Over four million people are potentially to be offered a vaccine in line with the flu vaccine, but we're waiting on the Niac advice to see what comes out”
A fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose is likely to be offered to as many as four million people at the same time as the winter flu vaccination, starting from this October, subject to clinical advice, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said.
Fresh advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) on how and when to administer fourth doses of Covid-19 vaccines is expected shortly, possibly as early as this week.
Mr Donnelly told the Sunday Independent this weekend that work is already underway between the Department of Health and the HSE on a fourth dose vaccine programme to be rolled out later this year, subject to Niac advice.
"We’re doing preliminary planning on a fourth vaccine dose programme, and there are some working assumptions in there between the HSE and the Department of Health,” he said.
"Over four million people are potentially to be offered a vaccine in line with the flu vaccine, but we're waiting on the Niac advice to see what comes out.”
Mr Donnelly said that he would favour a population-wide vaccination programme that could run in tandem with the HSE’s annual winter flu vaccine programme that begins in October and runs right up until April.
"Clinically I don't have a preference, but operationally my preference would be that if we are doing a population-wide vaccine programme, then we should be operationally doing it at the same time as the flu vaccine starting in October,” he said.
“There are likely three waves of activity. Right now, supporting the 700,000 to get boosted who’ve had two doses but not the booster. Then potentially offering a fourth dose to certain groups in the coming months, pending Niac advice. And thirdly, offering an Autumn/Winter dose to several million people, again pending Niac advice.”
Meanwhile, Mr Donnelly is also set to appoint a new Covid-19 advisory group within days, after finalising the details of its membership in recent days.
The Sunday Independent revealed last week that Mr Donnelly and chief medical officer Tony Holohan disagreed over the membership of the new group that will, in effect, succeed the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) in monitoring the disease and making recommendations to government.
One senior source said Mr Donnelly wanted a different group for a different purpose to that which Holohan recommended, which, the source argued, “perpetuates the sense of emergency”.
While allies of Mr Donnelly played down any disagreement, there have been criticisms of the delay in forming the new group as Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions increased in recent weeks. The fall in hospital admissions in recent days has led to a belief in government that the peak of the BA.2 wave of Covid may now have passed.
Mr Donnelly is understood to have settled on the make-up of the group. It will consist of around 15 members and will be chaired by the chief medical officer. Membership will include many of people he recommended, along with a handful of other appointees chosen by the minister.
It will include a combination of experts in public health, infectious diseases, and in different scientific and medical specialities. The minister is understood to be contacting these individuals this weekend to ask them to join the group.
Elsewhere, Dr Holohan has been asked to appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee to brief members on the current public health advice that there should be no reimposition of public health restrictions — including the requirement to wear masks in shops and on public transport.
“It is vital that we hear directly from the CMO. I support the public health advice — but it is important for the opposition to be briefed on the CMO’s thinking and the rationale behind advice given to government,” said Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane.
Dr Holohan has yet to respond to the invitation, however.
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