Covid-19: People may need to get fourth vaccine dose, warns Tánaiste
5 hrs ago
People may need to get a fourth dose of vaccine to protect themselves against Covid-19, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned.
As the roll-out of boosters will be extended to the over-50s from tomorrow, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil today that evidence from Israel shows immunity wanes after a third dose and a fourth dose may yet be needed.
He urged people to get their booster jab when it is offered to them, but accepted this would protect them primarily from the Delta variant.
He admitted that a fourth dose would likely be needed to protect against the new Omicron variant.
“It does seem that the existing vaccines are effective against Omicron when it comes to severe disease and death,” the Tánaiste said, if not protecting against contracting illness and being unwell.
“That’s why I would encourage people to get their third dose, and it’s why I will get my third dose whenever I’m asked to come and get it,” he said.
“If and when a new vaccine or a vaccine-tweak for Omicron is ready, of course we’ll make that available. But we don’t know when that is yet. It’s likely to be three months or more.
“In the meantime I think it’s advisable that people get the third dose – and then they may well then get a fourth dose later down the line, because the evidence from Israel is that unfortunately, immunity wanes from third dose as well.”
He said it may be the case that the Covid vaccine becomes a jab people have to have on an annual basis, particularly those with underlying medical conditions. This would be a seasonal matter, “like we have with the flu”, he said.
Asked if Taoiseach Micheál Martin was being unfair about the Irish public yesterday when he may have implied a popular unwillingness or indifference to the third dose, Mr Varadkar said Mr Martin was one of the fairest people he knew and did not intend it that way.
“I think the Taoiseach is always very fair, and he’s one of the fairest people that I’ve ever worked with,” he said.
“My experience in the health service is that there is typically a Did Not Attend (DNA) proportion of about 20pc for appointments.
“Those happen for all sorts of reasons, often good reasons. It’s not just the case that people don’t show up. It’s often more complicated than that.”
Asked if the HSE should over-book appointments instead of having empty halls, as happens in the aviation sector, Mr Varadkar replied: “There generally is overbooking to take account of that.
“But what we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks is a little strange. You do not expect a DNA ratio that is something like 50pc. That is unusual.”
Asked how it was coming about, he said: “Anecdotally what I’m hearing from people is that it’s happening for all sorts of reasons. It’s not that people can’t be bothered to turn up.
“Sometimes people have had their vaccine already. Sometimes they’ve had two appointments. They find it hard to cancel an appointment, but these are teething problems.
“We actually had this similar problem in the first phase of the vaccine programme, and it will be sorted out once more.
“Let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture here. We have a really exceptionally successful vaccine program in Ireland. We have 93pc of adults fully vaccinated.
“We are fourth in Europe, almost top of the league, when it comes to the third doses for priority groups, and now we have plans to extend that to all adults – and also start to vaccinate children aged from five to 11 as well.”
On Omicron as a looming threat, Mr Varadkar said: “We’re still learning about the emerging variant. There isn’t an awful lot that we know about it yet.
“We’re getting kind of scraps of information based on small studies. There isn’t an awful lot that we know about it at this stage.
“There are some suggestions that it is more transmissible than Delta, but also that it produces less severe illness. It seems that there is vaccine escape.
“But it is anticipated that the existing vaccines will give a very high level of protection when it comes to preventing severe illness and death.
“And ultimately, that is why we get vaccines. It’s not to avoid getting a mild illness or even getting illness at all. It’s to avoid severe hospitalisation and death.”