Government Ministers have said the Cabinet meeting next Friday that will decide a timetable for reopening key sectors of the economy will be “very significant” as it will restore society to close to where it was pre-Covid-19.
Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath and Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris have both alluded to the three sectors most affected by lockdown, aviation; indoor hospitality; and sport and live cultural events, being in line for timely reopenings during June and July.
Other Government sources have said the “mood music” around aviation, in particular, has improved substantially in recent weeks. The confidence has been bolstered primarily by the success of the national vaccination programme in meeting its targets. It is now likely that 1 million vaccine doses will be administered in May alone, with growing confidence within Government that 82 per cent of eligible adults will have been offered at least one dose of a vaccine by the end of June.
While the Government could delay until mid-August to implement the digital travel certificate, the indications given by several Government sources on Sunday were it was veering towards seeking if possible the middle of July.
The growing confidence was confirmed by Mr Harris on Sunday: “Two weeks ago people were talking about closing the border and mandatory hotel quarantine. Now we are talking about when we can get back in the skies again. I suppose that is a sign of the success of our vaccine programme,” he told RTÉ’s the Week in Politics programme.
Mr Harris said Friday’s meeting would be “very significant as it would address reopening” for what he described as the “three trickiest sectors.”
He said the Government would give clarity on when people could return to indoor dining and entertainment in restaurants in pub and also said his colleague, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin was working on a detailed programme that would allow live events to be piloted, in a similar vein to what has been done with live outdoor gigs in Liverpool earlier this month.
Mr Harris said the EU digital green certificate (to allow passengers who are immune, vaccinated or with clear tests to travel) would form a very big part of the timely return of the aviation sector. Stressing the importance of air connectivity to Ireland, not just for tourism but also for business, he said it was very “very significant that there is political agreement around the green certificate”, which will be formally ratified this week.
Mr McGrath said the Government had provided extensive supports to airports and airlines but its priority was to “get planes back in the sky. We are a country that depends on international connectivity”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, he said a lot of work has been done on the digital certificate but added “some domestic decisions need to be made about the application of that in an Irish context”.
He said the Government wanted to implement it as quickly as possible but would be also taking account of public health advice.
He said no decisions had been taken in relation to the date for reopening.
HSE working to amend booster system as people receive multiple appointments
The Health Service Executive (HSE) is working to amend the coronavirus vaccine system, as multiple channels offering third jabs has caused challenges for the booster campaign, HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor has said.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms O’Connor explained that the booster vaccine was available through vaccination centres, general practitioners and pharmacies.
Some people had gone to their local pharmacy to get their booster vaccine and then had received an appointment at a vaccination centre, she said. She called on people to cancel their vaccination centre appointment if they had received their booster through their GP or pharmacy.
Ms O’Connor’s comments come after Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Tuesday that there were 87,000 no-shows for boosters last week, and the chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP committee, Dr Denis McCauley, described the non-attendances as “very disrespectful”.
Ms O’Connor said the priority for the HSE was to get as many people fully vaccinated as possible.
When asked about the lower levels of people in the 60-69 age cohort who have received their booster vaccine, Ms O’Connor said that not everyone in that age group would have had their second vaccine more than five months ago. That was “a natural limiter”.
Ms O’Connor said people possibly were apprehensive or busier, now that many were back at work or were preparing for Christmas, but the vaccine was important as was the booster.
To date more than a million people have received their booster vaccine, she added, and appointments will be offered to people aged between 50 and 59 from Thursday.
“We will also have walk-in centres open to people to get their vaccine and as ever we encourage everybody to avail of the vaccine. It’s really important, especially with a new variant, that we try to protect as many people as possible,” Ms O’Connor said.
Meanwhile, Dr McAuley told Newstalk Breakfast that there were very few no-shows to booster appointments at GP surgeries, because people know their GP personally.
Now was not the time for “messing”, he said in relation to people failing to attend their appointments at vaccine centres.
“If you get a vaccine appointment, make sure that you go there rather than getting your hair done or going shopping – or if it is a work thing, stay on the helpline to get a new appointment.
“Be respectful of the mass vaccination centres. These are people who are working very hard and it is very disrespectful to have over 80,000 people not turn up in one week. It is not appropriate. You wouldn’t do it to your GP so why are you doing it to these healthcare workers.”
There was also a concern that some people were waiting to see what happens with the Omicron variant before getting their booster. Dr McCauley said that the booster would greatly reduce the chances of picking up the virus or having to go into hospital
Dr McCauley said there needed to be “a call to arms” for people to get vaccinated and he warned that when more information about Omicron emerged, booster appointments could be harder to come by.
All you need to know on getting the Moderna vaccine as a booster
People due to receive their Covid-19 booster vaccine in coming weeks will primarily be offered the Moderna dose at HSE vaccination centres.
The HSE is reported to have large supplies of Moderna due to expire next month, so that will be the main vaccine administered over coming weeks to the over-60s, over-50s, healthcare workers, and younger people in vulnerable groups – though it will be restricted to people over 30.
Anecdotally there are indications some people may be reluctant to take the Moderna vaccine. This may be due to Irish stocks about to expire shortly and/or confusion about its efficacy. This follows the company’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel warning last week the Moderna jab may not be as effective against Omicron as it had been with the Delta variant.
The HSE has confirmed recipients will have no choice on what vaccine they are given.
What type of coronavirus vaccine is the Moderna jab?
It is a new kind of synthetic “mRNA vaccine” – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is from the same stable. They provide excellent protection against severe illness and hospitalisation – and have played a critical role in reducing Covid-19 deaths since being approved. A downside, however, is that the Moderna version must be kept at -20 degrees.
Should people be worried about receiving a soon to be out-of-date vaccine?
|Total doses distributed to Ireland||Total doses administered in Ireland|
In short no, as they retain the ability to boost antibody production within currently approved time spans – though inevitably potency wanes over time. The Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) vaccines were put on the market with emergency use authorisation of up to six months.
This compares with a shelf life of two to three years for most vaccines and other medicines. This is an “inevitable consequence of getting the vaccines out of the door as quickly as possible”, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Gino Martini told the journal BMJ.
Months later, these “emergency” expiry dates remain in force for these vaccines. For approved Covid-19 vaccines, the initial shelf lives were based on data available at the time of submission for regulatory approval.
The long-term shelf life has not been extended for any of the vaccines. A shelf life extension would require supporting evidence from relevant stability studies. Vaccine manufacturers are monitoring batches of vaccines with the aim of providing a longer shelf life; probably the usual two years.
What about the Omicron threat?
While Moderna said existing vaccines including its mRNA version will probably be less effective against the Omicron variant, most experts believe they will continue to provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalisation. It should be stressed, however, definitive indication has yet to emerge. That will be a matter of weeks, if not days.
Moderna has confirmed it is developing an Omicron-specific booster though manufacturing the new vaccine would take time. Tens of millions of doses could be available in the first quarter of 2022, but scale-up would not happen until the second quarter – provided it is shown such boosters are required.
What is the latest indication on the benefits of mixing vaccines?
Evidence supporting a mixing of vaccine doses has hardened over recent months. A study this week shows combining a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine with a second dose of either the Moderna or the Novavax jabs results in far higher levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells compared with two doses of the AstraZeneca jab.
This finding also has important implications for lower-income countries that have not yet completed their primary vaccination campaigns as it suggests you do not need access to mRNA vaccines – and therefore ultra-cold storage facilities – to trigger an extremely potent Covid-19 vaccine response.
The study also bolsters confidence that using the Moderna vaccine as a booster dose in people who have previously received the AstraZeneca jab should result in high levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells.
It follows separate data published last week suggesting the Pfizer and Moderna booster jabs can dramatically strengthen the body’s immune defences.
Woman (90s) dies following single-vehicle crash in Co Clare
A woman in her 90s has died following a single-vehicle crash in Co Clare in the early hours of Tuesday.
The incident occurred at about 12.30am at Annagh, Miltown Malbay. The woman, who was the driver and sole occupant of the car involved in the crash, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Her body was removed to Limerick University Hospital, where gardaí say a postmortem will take place at a later date.
The road has been closed to facilitate an exam by Garda forensic collision investigators, and local diversions are in place.
Gardaí have appealed for witnesses – particularly road users who may have camera footage – to come forward. Anyone with information can contact Kilrush Garda station (065 908 0550), the confidential line (1800 666 111), or any Garda station.
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