Thousands of people hoping to travel outside of Ireland in the weeks and months ahead could see their plans derailed at the boarding gates if they have not received booster jabs of a Covid-19 vaccine.
A significant EU-wide rule change to come into force on Tuesday means that the digital Covid certs that have been used to facilitate much international travel since the middle of July last year now come with an expiry limit of nine months.
That means anyone who received their second dose of the primary vaccine before the beginning of last May will require a booster jab if they are planning to travel using the digital Covid cert.
While about 95 per cent of Irish adults have completed their primary vaccine course, the numbers of eligible adults who have received a booster jab is closer to 80 per cent.
The percentage of people who have been boosted falls significantly among younger age groups, with between 40 and 70 per cent of people aged between 18 and 49 boosted.
The vast majority of this cohort will not reach the nine-month cut-off point until the summer at the earliest and many of them are likely to be able to provide proof of having recovered from Covid-19 as an alternative to the booster jab.
However, the issue could be more pressing for people who were fully vaccinated before May 1st last year. Just under half a million people received their primary vaccination before the start of last May and about 10 per cent of them have yet to receive a booster shot.
People without a booster will still be able to travel if they have proof of recovery from Covid-19 or are willing to take a PCR test within a set window before they travel.
The European Commission introduced the nine-month cut-off point to avoid diverging measures across the EU and “takes into account the guidance of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control regarding the administration of booster doses as of six months, and provides for an additional period of three months to ensure that national vaccination campaigns can adjust and citizens can have access to boosters”.
It has mandated that EU countries “should not accept such vaccination certificates if more than nine months have passed since the date of vaccination indicated” and stressed that “at this stage” it is not proposing a validity period for certificates issued based on booster shots.
Paul Hackett, president of the Irish Travel Agents Association, said the change “has been pretty well flagged and I honestly think people booking travel are aware they need to check the regulations”.
He pointed out that the same rules were being applied “all over Europe so it will be flagged everywhere”. Younger people may be “the most at-risk group in terms of turning up without an updated cert as we get closer to the summer but hopefully, between [dealings with] the travel trade and the airline, they will know what they do”.
On Saturday, a fifth Covid-19 vaccine was approved for use in the State by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee.
Nuvaxovid, which has been developed by US company Novavax, can be used in those aged 18 and over. It is administered in two doses with a three-week interval.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that a glitch in the computer systems at the Passport Office in recent days impacted the applications of some of those who tried to get new passports using its online portal.
People who attempted to apply online were asked to upload all their details and pay the required fee before receiving an error message which said: “Your transaction has been successful but there was a problem connecting back to the merchant’s web site. Please contact your merchant and advise them that you received this message.”
A spokeswoman for the Passport Office confirmed that it was experiencing “intermittent issues for a small number of users”. However, she stressed that it had successfully processed 27,000 applications last week.