A Covid-19 booster vaccine programme isn’t enough to bring down cases, Professor Sam McConkey said.
he infectious disease specialist said vaccines alone are not enough to control coronavirus in Ireland.
He was speaking as the Cabinet Subcommittee on Covid-19 is due to meet later today to discuss Nphet’s latest recommendations.
Nphet has recommended the wider use of Covid-19 digital certificates, antigen testing a return to working from home for office workers.
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Speaking to Newstalk this morning, Prof McConkey said: “Unfortunately we’re now discovering that the vaccine alone is not enough to control Covid in Ireland.
“Loads of [people] would love to go back to 2019 ways of socialising and enjoying ourselves.
“But if we do that at present, we’re realising that the virus will start spreading more – and is spreading more.
“It’s finding a new normal: it’s this definition of what is new, what is the way of socialising and physical interaction for 2022?
“We’re just slowly discovering that.”
He said it would be “a nice thing” if boosters would fix the current surge of cases, but that isn’t the reality.
“This vaccine is more a vaccine against disease – and severe disease and death – than a vaccine against transmission.
“This particular vaccine… it doesn’t provide immunity in your nose to stop you catching it – and unfortunately stop you passing it on to the people around you as well as it does to prevent disease and death.
“It’s unlikely that the vaccine – even if we boosted everyone tomorrow – would just sort of fix the problem.
“It might improve it for a month or two, but it’s not really a definitive fix.”
The infectious disease expert said the main way people can help is to socialise less.
“It’s keeping the number of people we meet smaller than it was in the last six weeks,” he said.
“It’s clear, since the beginning of October, the numbers of Covid are increasing.
“They were increasing about 5pc a day there for a while, and now maybe 2pc a day: so that’s unsustainable.
“If you just continue that it’ll just get bigger and bigger and things will get worse.”
Prof McConkey said for antigen tests to be a viable option, they need to be down to about €3 – as opposed to the current average price of €7 or €8.
“You have to use them two or three times a week a least – so you’re then at 100 or 200 tests a year,” he said.
“So if you’re thinking about a reasonable cost per year for this health intervention, is €400 or €500 a year too much?
“That works out about €2 or €3 each – so if you’re using them two or three times a week, it has to be cheap to be affordable to keep that going for six months or a year.”
Meanwhile Dr Colman O’Loughlin, an intensive care consultant, said he believes booster vaccines should be administered as soon as possible but that there is no “obvious trigger” that would turn the situation around.
As hospital cases surge he said “grim” is an appropriate word to describe ICU in Ireland at the moment.
“We’re into surge… we’re ventilating patients outside ICU,” he said on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Claire Byrne.
“This means curtailing activities, and with that comes a degree of harm, I can’t beat around the bush.”
As of 8am yesterday, 582 Covid-19 patients are hospitalised, of which 106 are in ICU.
HSE chief Paul Reid said on Newstalk this morning that 40pc of patients in intensive care are unvaccinated.
“I’m told it’s half and half in ICU, so it’s equal measure people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated,” Dr O’Loughlin said.
“We are seeing a disproportionate number of unvaccinated people coming in.”
The doctor said it was hoped that society could open with a 90pc vaccination rate but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
“Unfortunately, the transmission rates are still not as low as they need to be in the vaccinated community,” he said.
He added that booster vaccines should be administered to everyone as soon as possible.
“Get it into the arms of people and see if there’s uptake, the evidence suggests that it will make a difference.
“Something has to give here, we can’t see a way out of this by continuing as we are, something has to happen.
“People themselves will have to look at themselves and what they want from the health system.”
Dr O’Loughlin said if people value the emergency care that is provided in this country they will have to “start taking different responsibilities and stop relying on Tony Holohan and the Government to keep advising on how to reduce transmission”.
He added: “I think it’s up to the people to start behaving a bit more responsibly themselves and do what they can because there is no trigger obvious to me coming down the line to turn this around.”