Covid-19 booster shots are to be offered to immunocompromised people aged 12 and over as well as pregnant women at any stage of their pregnancy, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.
Mr Donnelly yesterday announced several updates to the State’s vaccination programme following recommendations made by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) to chief medical officer Tony Holohan, who endorsed them.
Mr Donnelly said mRNA vaccines can now be given to all pregnant women. The previous advice was that pregnant women be offered mRNA shots at between 14-36 weeks’ gestation.
NIAC said the booster shots should be offered following an “individual benefit/risk discussion” with an obstetric caregiver. It said the recommendation was based on the “growing body of evidence on the safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccination”.
It said the evidence “clearly indicates that the benefits of vaccination outweigh any known or potential risks of Covid-19 vaccination during pregnancy”.
Mr Donnelly said: “I am aware that many pregnant people and their partners will have questions about this update to the vaccination programme.
“I encourage anyone who has any concerns to engage with their obstetric care team and the many trusted sources of information available in order to make the best decision for you and your baby.”
NIAC’s updated advice also recommends an “extended primary vaccination course” with an mRNA vaccine for immunocompromised individuals aged 12 years and older, regardless of whether the initial vaccine they received was an mRNA or an adenoviral vector vaccine.
The third dose of an mRNA vaccine should be given a minimum of two months after the last dose of the primary vaccination schedule.
“Since the very beginning of this pandemic, we have worked to protect those most at high risk from severe illness and death from Covid-19,” said Mr Donnelly. “I hope that the opportunity to receive a third or booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine dose brings comfort and reassurance to people that these vaccines are very safe and effective and offer protection from Covid-19.
“I will now work with my department, the HSE and the high-level taskforce to implement these recommendations as soon as possible.”
The updates came as the Health Protection Surveillance Centre was notified of a further 1,789 confirmed cases of the virus.
As of 8am yesterday, 360 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 56 were in intensive care. There has been a total of 5,112 deaths related to the virus notified in Ireland, an increase of 20 since last week.
Meanwhile, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said there is “no urgent need” for the administration of booster doses of vaccines to fully vaccinated people in the general population.
In a report, it said additional doses should already be considered for people with severely weakened immune systems as part of their primary vaccination, if they do not achieve an adequate level of protection from the standard primary vaccination.
Separately, transport unions have urged their members not to facilitate the planned increase in capacity on services beyond 75 per cent until all public health restrictions are lifted in October.
The National Bus and Rail Union and Siptu also said they would support all frontline train workers who opted, for their own safety, not to operate on crowded carriages across the rail network. “Such an environment, in our view, would serve as incubators for future strains of Covid-19-like viruses,” the unions said.
The National Transport Authority said this week that from yesterday buses, trams and trains would return to full capacity and seating would no longer be blocked off on board services.
Remains found in Dublin adds intrigue to search for Robert Emmet’s grave
Skeletal remains have been found at one of the locations identified as a possible last resting place of Robert Emmet who was executed on this day in 1803.
The remains were found during an excavation at the back of St Paul’s Church in Stoneybatter in Dublin.
The disappearance of the body of Robert Emmet is one of the great mysteries of Irish history.
Emmet was tried and then hanged for instigating the ill-fated 1803 rebellion. He became a symbol of Irish martyrdom for his speech from the dock in which he concluded: “Let them and me rest in obscurity and peace, and my name remain uninscribed, until other times and other men can do justice to my character. When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written.”
After he was publicly hanged outside St Catherine’s Church in Thomas Street on September 20th, 1803, his head was displayed to the crowd by the hangman Thomas Galvin. The remains of Emmet’s body was taken to Bully’s Acre in the grounds of what is now the Royal Hospital Kilmainham and buried there.
When some of his friends went to reintern his remains from Bully’s Acre to St Michan’s Church in Church Street, a church associated with the United Irishmen, they found there was no body there, and so began a search which endures to this day.
His great-nephew Dr Thomas Addis Emmet requested an archaeological dig at the family vault in St Peter’s Church in Aungier Street to mark the centenary of Emmet’s death in 1903, but that proved to be unsuccessful.
St Paul’s Church is another contender in the saga of Emmet’s remains. It was the parish church of Kilmainham Gaol’s doctor and effective governor Dr Edward Trevor.
In his book In the Footsteps of Robert Emmet, JJ Reynolds speculated that Trevor removed Emmet’s body and put it in an unmarked grave in the grounds of St Paul’s Church. This was to ensure that his grave would not become a shrine for Irish nationalism.
The church, which was the venue for the consecration of the philosopher George Berkeley as Bishop of Cloyne in 1734, has been converted into the Spade Enterprise Centre, a not-for-profit social enterprise unit.
The land where the skeletal remains were found is being turned into a shared kitchen for small business enterprises in the area.
Archaeologist Franc Miles said burials in the grounds were from 1702 to the 1860s. A extant set of burial records remain, but Emmet, if he really is buried there, would have no record.
Previous exhumations were carried out when the graveyard was closed in 1860s to make way for a school on the site.
“With all the evacuations, we were left with bits and pieces of body. There weren’t many full skeletons,” he said.
Mr Miles said it all the gravemarkers and stones were removed in the 1860s “so all you are left with really are bones.”
Mr Miles said it would be difficult if not impossible to identify Emmet’s remains even if they are buried in the grounds of St Paul’s Church.
His own “educated guess” is that Emmet’s body is still buried somewhere in Bully’s Acre.
As many of his supporters have said over the last two centuries: “Do not look for him. His grave is Ireland.”
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Officials pushed for State to buy direct provision centres from private firms
The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.
The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.
The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.
The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.
The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.
“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.
The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.
The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.
“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.
The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.
Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.
“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.
“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”
The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.
Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.
A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.
Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.
“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.
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