February 25th, 2021
Ireland is currently rolling out a Covid-19 vaccination programme. Presently there are three licensed vaccines being used; the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Everyone with a chronic neurological condition should continue to follow government advice to reduce the risk of catching and transmitting COVID-19 even if they have received a vaccine for COVID-19.
Even if you are vaccinated, it takes some time after vaccination to achieve immunity, so it is crucial to maintain precautions after initial vaccination. It takes up to 28 days after the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and up to 22 days for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to get some level of immunity. For both vaccines, the best response is achieved with two doses and you should receive the second booster dose when offered, but there is significant protection from a single dose.
Everyone’s risk is different and will depend on individual circumstances. You should have an opportunity to discuss the right choice for you with your Neurology team.
How are vaccinations prioritized?
The prioritization for who gets vaccinated first has been done by an expert team within the HSE, details can be found here.
People with chronic neurological illnesses are prioritized as “vulnerable patients”. The Government has recently announced changes to the national rollout plan and now people living with MND will be catered for under Cohort 4. More info can be found HERE.
The HSE has started to make arrangements to vaccinate people with certain health conditions, like MND, that put them at very high risk if they get COVID-19. This is being organised initially through hospital teams who are caring for people in this new Group 4.
This process has recommenced after it was stalled due to notification from the government to temporarily defer use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has given the vaccine its seal of approval saying that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective and that it is not associated with an increased risk of blood clots.
The HSE will resume vaccinations in the coming days but it will take a little bit of time to get this up and running. Hospital centres will need to contact everyone again and re-schedule appointments. It may take a few days to identify and invite all of the people affected. Your invite will come in the form of a phone call or text from your hospital.
If you have attended more than one hospital during the course of your illness i.e. Beaumont and Galway or Cork, you may receive two invites. Please ensure you contact the hospital you will not be attending so they can allocate this space to another vulnerable person.
What do I need to do?
People do not need to register in advance or take any action at this time. Your hospital or healthcare team will contact you when it’s your turn to be vaccinated.
Should I accept the Vaccine?
Based on what we know about the way these vaccines work, and high quality evidence from studies of other vaccines, we do not think that vaccine will make any neurological symptoms worse.
Which vaccine will be given?
Group 4 are to be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine. The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) advised any of the approved vaccines are suitable for use for patients in this group and that the priority was to offer an effective vaccine as quickly as possible.
How effective is this vaccine?
The AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines all provide a very high level of excellent protection against severe disease and hospitalisation. The initial research study of the AstraZeneca vaccine initially showed infection protection of about 60%, but most recent studies showed protection above 80% with two doses.
What should I do now?
Your hospital or healthcare team will get in touch with you over the coming weeks when it’s your turn to have the vaccine.
You can find the patient information leaflet from AstraZeneca here on the HSE website, and this is also being produced in a range of languages, and in Easy-Read format.
What are the Risks?
The vaccines available in Ireland have been fully tested, and the risks are very low. Some people feel slightly unwell for a few days afterwards but recover. The usual risks around vaccination (allergic reactions, etc) also apply. But in general there have been no major problems.
You might read materials on social media about risks of vaccinations. Be careful about the sources, as many of these sites are not based on any scientific information.
The risks of falling ill and spreading COVID, and the risks of dying from COVID-19 are much higher than the risks of any harm that the vaccine might do.