More than 890,000 people have yet to get their first booster shot as new variants threaten a new Covid surge

More than 890,000 people here have still not taken their first Covid-19 booster shot as disease experts warn another potential virus surge is imminent.

Germany and the rest of Europe are at risk of a “significant rise in Covid-19 over the coming weeks and months” with a spike in hospital admissions after new offshoots of Omicron were declared variants of concern yesterday.

The new variants of concern are BA.4 and BA.5, which were first detected in South Africa in January and February and caused a further increase in infections. The European Center for Disease Control said they had become the dominant variant there.

Numbers obtained through the Irish Independent show a significant slowdown in vaccine uptake here, with nearly 894,000 people eligible for a first booster who have not yet taken the vaccine.

And although around 92,000 of the more than 750,000 over-65s and people with compromised immune systems who have been offered a second booster shot have received the vaccine, that means more than 650,000 have yet to get the shot.

Damien McCallion, head of HSE implementation, said take-up of the first refresher was very high in the oldest age groups but lower in younger people.

He said it’s important to get a first or second booster shot to maintain protection against serious illness.

The BA.2 is still dominant in Ireland and cases are declining with the PCR test positivity rate down to 14.6 per cent. Yesterday there were 28 Covid-19 patients in intensive care.

Hospitals, which have faced months of significant disruption, are trying to improve non-Covid care and tackle waiting lists, but a further surge in cases would set them back.

The new variants are set to dominate in Portugal, a popular holiday destination for people from Ireland, by the end of this month.

The watchdog warned that the presence of these variants “could result in a significant increase in Covid-19 cases in the EU/EEA as a whole in the coming weeks”.

According to the current state of knowledge, both BA.4 and BA.5 are easier to transfer than BA.2, but not more serious.

“In recent weeks, an increasing trend in variant proportions for BA.5 has been observed in Portugal, accompanied by an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and the test positivity rate.”

The Portuguese National Health Institute estimated that as of May 8, BA.5 already accounted for 37 percent of positive cases. The estimated daily growth advantage for BA.5 over BA.2 is 13 percent, which is in line with the previous 12 percent daily growth advantage reported by South Africa.

Assuming such a growth rate, BA.5 will be the dominant variant in Portugal until May 22nd.

The currently observed growth advantage for BA.4 and BA.5 is likely due to their ability to evade the immune protection induced by previous infection and/or vaccination, particularly when this has waned over time.

Limited data from in vitro studies evaluating sera from unvaccinated individuals who have had a previous BA.1 infection indicate that both BA.4 and BA.5 are capable of resisting that caused by a to evade infection with BA.1-induced immune protection.

Unvaccinated individuals are unlikely to be protected from symptomatic infection with BA.4 or BA.5, the watchdog said.

Protection from currently available vaccines diminishes over time against the Omicron variant.

There is currently no indication of a change in severity for BA.4 and BA.5 compared to previous Omicron lines.

“Taken together, this suggests that the presence of these variants could lead to a significant overall increase in Covid-19 cases in the EU/EEA in the coming weeks and months,” it said. More than 890,000 people have yet to get their first booster shot as new variants threaten a new Covid surge

Fry Electronics Team

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