From July 1, the European Union is going to put into use a “coronavirus passport” that will allow its citizens to travel across the 27-country bloc without the need for quarantines – assuming the epidemiological situation does not take a new turn for the worse. The “EU Digital Covid Certificate,” as the scheme is known, is seeking to standardize the documents issued by each country so that they can be recognized by each member.
What is the passport for?
The EU Digital Covid Certificate aims to guarantee the use of national certificates across the union that prove that the holder has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has had a negative PCR or antigen test for the virus, or has recovered from the illness thus enjoying a period of immunity from reinfection.
Can countries use the passport for other purposes?
This is within their powers. For example, some countries want this document not just to be used for the free circulation of travelers across the EU, but also for social events. Austria wants to use it for access to hotels, restaurants and cultural activities.
Who will issue these certificates?
The member states will decide this. In the case of Spain, the regions – which are in charge of their own healthcare systems as well as the overall control of the pandemic in their territories – can be assigned this task. The Health Ministry will place the technical means necessary at their disposal so that they can consult the central vaccination register.
What format will they be available in?
Citizens can choose between paper, digital or both.
Why is this being done?
After a number of EU countries announced that they would create such certificates, Brussels decided that it should guarantee a model that will allow for the recovery of full movement within the EU. The bloc is also seeking to put an end to fake PCR test and vaccine certificates, by creating a homogenized system where the data can be verified.
What data should be included?
The data included should facilitate cross-EU functionality – i.e. so that a country can accept a document that has been issued by another EU member. In particular, the certificate should include a barcode or QR code that allows for the verification of the authenticity and validity of the document, among others. The certificate will have to be in the official languages of the issuing country and in English. What’s more, another document will contain the details of the Covid-19 vaccine the holder has received, the result of a PCR test or information that guarantees that the bearer has overcome the virus should they have contracted it previously.
Why have these three scenarios been chosen?
The Commission believes that scientific literature has by now consistently concluded that the Covid-19 vaccines contribute to breaking the chain of transmission an that those who have had Covid-19 in the last six months have a reduced risk of infecting others.
How can you prove that you have had Covid-19?
The document must include the date of the first positive PCR test. That certificate is only valid for 180 days.
Do I have to pay for the document?
No, the certificate is free. To avoid fraud, a fee may be charged should the holder repeatedly lose the document.
When does it come into force?
On July 1. For countries that are not ready in time, an introductory period is being considered. In Spain, the certificate will come into force ahead of that date – in fact it may start as early as today with a pilot program, coinciding with the reopening of Spanish borders to global visitors who have been vaccinated.
Does this mean that being vaccinated is obligatory for travel?
No. In fact, the passport cannot be a precondition for travel.
What advantages will I have if I have the Spanish certificate?
The Spanish Covid certificate will guarantee that the bearer the same rights as local citizens when in another EU country. For example, if an Austrian restaurant only permits patrons with the certificate, the Spanish document will be equally valid.
Which vaccines are allowed?
The EU will accept all of those authorized by the European Medicines Agency (EMA): Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Janssen. However, a country will also be able to accept certificates expedited for anyone who has received a vaccine validated by an EU member state, one that has temporary authorization or whose use has been approved for emergency reasons by the World Health Organization (WHO). The EU regulation only states that there can be no exceptions: if one state accepts that the residents of another member (or a third country) can travel with vaccines that have not been approved by the EMA they should extend this possibility to the rest of the members of the 27-country bloc.
Are measures such as quarantines ending?
This is the aim of the certificate, but each country reserves the right to impose new restrictions if they consider that the epidemiological conditions require such measures. In this case, they must be communicated with 48 hours notice, if possible, to the rest of the EU member states.
How long will the regulation in force?
So far, for 12 months. The aim of the European institutions is to lift all of the restrictions on freedom of movement when the epidemiological conditions allow. The European Commission will have to present a report four months after having started to apply the regulation and three months before this one-year period comes to an end.
English version by Simon Hunter.
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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