C: Mufid Majnun via Unsplash

Under 40s with Covid no longer entitled to a free PCR test

Those aged under 40 who are displaying symptoms of Covid-19 will no longer be entitled to a free PCR test. The change went into effect yesterday, Friday 14th of January.

The new Government rule means that people who have recovered from Covid will in effect have an obstacle to obtaining an EU certificate, because a PCR test (rather than an antigen test) is required to obtain one. The only way of possibly accessing an EU recovery cert will be by paying for a costly private PCR test, which can cost anywhere between €60 and €150.

In effect, the decision means that young people will be denied the same access to an EU certificate which will limit their movement and travel. “The purpose of the EU Digital COVID Certificate is to help facilitate free movement and travel within the EU for both EU citizens and non-EU nationals already in the EU,” the EU states.

The certificate is needed for entry to indoor dining, hospitality, concerts, gyms, hotels and other venues – and if a person has not received a Covid-19 vaccine, the only option under the system is to present proof of recovery from Covid – which can only be done through proof of a positive PCR test. Before the change, these were provided free of charge by the HSE.

Critics of the move argue that the shift in policy is in breach of people’s rights, and point out that Ireland signed up for the system which will now exclude a whole section of people. The legality of denying people the chance to obtain a recovery certificate has also been questioned, and it has been argued that the move is a way of coercing people to get vaccinated or boosted, with the argument also put forward that the new rule by the Irish Government represents a violation of people’s rights in Ireland.

Reports state that people under 40 who have not had their booster shot but have contracted and recovered from Covid-19 will lose out on getting a certificate of recovery for an updated EU Digital Covid Cert under new testing rules. From Friday 14th of January, those aged between four and 39 will no longer be entitled to a PCR test from the HSE if they test positive on a rapid antigen test following the Government’s changes.

Whilst antigen tests will still be offered for free under the HSE for those aged four to 39 who are displaying symptoms of Covid,  the HSE’s website now advises: “Do not book a PCR test”. The HSE states that “Healthcare workers should book a PCR test” but advises everyone not in this category aged under 40 to do 3 antigen tests 3 days in a row.

The problem with this approach is that an individual can only receive proof of recovery from Covid-19 if a PCR test has been taken. EU rules state that certificates of recovery showing that a person has recovered from Covid-19, which can be used to access indoor dining, gyms, nightclubs, concerts, and other venues and amenities, can only be issued following a positive PCR test. This is also the case for digital certificates for travel. 

In a media briefing on Wednesday, deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, said that   the current certificates are valid for 270 days so anyone who completed their primary vaccination course last July will be able to travel to the vast majority of countries until April – after which their current certificates will expire and an updated one will be needed.

In a push for people to get the booster shot, he said that anyone who has not been boosted and who now tests positive for Covid-19 on antigen tests would be in a position to get their booster doses in three months’ time enabling them to receive their updated digital certificate in time to travel during the summer. 

“Hopefully there won’t be too many people adversely affected,” he said – although the new Government rules present obvious problems for those who have not been vaccinated, or who have not received a booster jab. 

The Government has been issuing updated digital certificates because of the additional third booster shots that have been administered over the past four months. Critics argue that the move renders their first and second doses of a Covid-19 vaccine meaningless because they are required to have received a booster shot to qualify for an updated digital certificate – even if they cannot receive a booster vaccine for medical reasons, including if they had a negative reaction to the first or second dose of a Covid-19 jab.

Whilst health officials maintain that the “benefits currently still outweigh risks” when it comes to Covid-19 vaccines, adverse reactions have been reported. For instance, the European Medicine’s Agency’s (EMA’s)  Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC) announced in November it was investigating cases of thromboembolic events in people who have received the AstraZeneca jab, whilst a risk of myocarditis and pericarditis has been acknowledged in relation to the Pfizer vaccine, with the WHO noting the risk of rare heart inflammation. 

World Health Organization experts have warned that repeating booster doses of the original Covid vaccines is not a viable strategy against emerging variants as they called for new jabs that better protect against transmission.

“A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable,” the WHO Technical Advisory Group on Covid-19 Vaccine Composition (TAG-Co-VAC) said in a statement published on Tuesday.

European Union regulators this week warned that repeat Covid booster shots could adversely affect the immune response and may not be feasible. The European Medicines Agency said that repeat booster doses every four months could eventually weaken the immune response. 

Instead, countries should leave more time between booster programs and coincide any booster dose to the onset of the cold season in each hemisphere, following the blueprint set out by influenza vaccination strategies, the agency said.

Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, Marco Cavaleri, the EMA head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy, said that boosters “can be done once, or maybe twice, but it’s not something that we can think should be repeated constantly,” . “We need to think about how we can transition from the current pandemic setting to a more endemic setting.”

The advice comes as some countries consider the possibility of offering people second booster shots – a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose. Earlier this month Israel became the first nation to start administering a fourth shot, to those aged over 60.  

An Irish vaccine expert has also said that we “can’t just keep giving booster jabs” to combat new variants and waning protection. Such an approach is not “plausible” according to Dr Anne Moore, a University College Cork vaccine specialist.

Dr Moore said the rollout of a fourth dose is likely in the coming months as the UK considers an additional dose for older people and Israel offers the second booster shot to healthcare workers.

The Government has been issuing updated digital certs to reflect the additional third booster shots that have been administered over the past four months.

Whilst Ireland has one of the highest vaccination rates across Europe, just one in three people aged 30 to 39 have had their booster dose by last week, whilst almost one in four aged 18 to 29 had been boosted. Booster uptake is particularly low in teenagers, with just one in five 16- to 17-year-olds in Ireland having had a booster, according to the HSE.

However, many people still have yet to receive their booster doses.

Just one in three people aged between 30 and 39 had received booster doses by last week, while almost one in four among those aged 18-29 had been boosted. Just one in five young people aged 16 or 17 had been boosted, according to the HSE.

It comes as chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan pressed people to get the booster dose, stating that anybody thinking of going on holiday abroad this summer should take a booster. 

In a continuation of an ever-changing policy, from 1st February, the EU is introducing new rules on travel to include booster shots. Updated Covid-19 certs will also be required to gain access to hospitality. 

The Department of Health, when asked about the PCR requirement for the digital cert, said that it was “critical to the success of the EU Digital Covid Certificate that consistency is applied across all member states regarding the issuing of certificates”.

Share mdi-share-variant mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-printer mdi-chevron-left Prev Next mdi-chevron-right Related
Comments are open

The biggest problem Ireland faces right now is:

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...