Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that three out of four patients in hospital with Covid-19 now are over 65 years of age.

In a posting on the social media platform Twitter, the minister said that only around half have had the second booster.

He said that vaccines are the greatest protection against severe disease and hospitalisation and that the numbers coming forward for a second booster are increasing.

Mr Donnelly added the more people who get the second booster will ensure Ireland has hospital beds for tackling waiting lists and ease the pressures on emergency departments.

He said that 55% of people aged 85 years and older have received a second booster.

For the age group 75-84, the uptake has been 60% and for those aged 65-74, the uptake has been 50%.

His comments follow a recommendation by European health agencies that a second Covid-19 booster be considered for people aged between 60 and 79 years, as well as those with medical conditions putting them at high risk of severe disease.

Ireland is already offering second booster doses for those age 65 and older and people with weak immune systems.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said that as a new Covid wave is currently under way in Europe, with increasing rates of hospital and intensive care unit admissions, it is crucial that public health authorities now consider people between 60 and 79 as well as vulnerable people of any age for a second booster.

It said that at the moment, there is no clear evidence to support giving a second booster dose to people below 60 years of age who are not at higher risk of severe disease.

"With cases and hospitalisations rising again as we enter the summer period, I urge everybody to get vaccinated and boosted as quickly as possible. There is no time to lose," Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety said in a statement issued by the ECDC and the European Medicines Agency.

EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said the agency is also looking at possible approvals of adapted vaccines in September and the agency is currently reviewing data for two adapted vaccines.

The adapted vaccines would be for the Omicron variants of concern.

She said that, in the meantime, it is important to consider using currently authorised vaccines as second boosters in people who are most vulnerable.

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EU health agencies have since April recommended a second booster only for those older than 80 and the most vulnerable.

The new recommendation is expected to facilitate national decisions to speed up vaccination campaigns, which have been slowing to nearly a halt in recent months.

"We need to act now to boost the protection of citizens at risk over the summer months," Ms Kyriakides said.

She noted that vaccines currently available for boosters, such as Pfizer and Moderna, are "highly effective in reducing severe Covid."

It is however unclear how effective they are at preventing infections from the newest Covid-19 Omicron sub-variants.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee is looking at extending second booster doses to other age groups and the vaccination strategy for the winter period.

The Department of Health has welcomed the recommendations from the ECDC and EMA.

It said that any recommendations made by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee on foot of its deliberations will then be considered by the Acting CMO and Minister, prior to being communicated to the HSE for implementation.

The Department has also strongly recommended that those who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated to complete a primary Covid-19 vaccination course.

It also urged those eligible for booster vaccinations to get them, to reduce hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths.

It comes as the number of people with Covid-19 in hospital here has risen to more than 1,000 for the first time since April.

As of 8am, there were 1,055 patients with the virus in hospital - an increase of 68 on the same time yesterday.

Of these, 40 people are in intensive care units with the virus - an increase of two on yesterday.

The last time hospital numbers rose above 1,000 was on 12 April when 1,004 people with Covid-19 were in hospitals around the country.

The HSE has said that Covid-19 cases should peak over next week or so and reduce but that there will be time lag before the situation in hospitals eases.

'Sensible advice'

Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity College Dublin Kingston Mills has described today's announcement from European health agencies as "sensible advice".

He said that there has been a "significant resurgence" of cases in Ireland, but he hopes that this will subside in "a week, or two".

Speaking to RTÉ's Drivetime, Professor Mills said: "I think it's sensible advice. Many countries in Europe, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy and France are seeing significant resurgence of cases and Ireland is not too far behind, although maybe not quite as bad."

He said that Portugal had a significant wave but that has now "reduced significantly".

"It started three or four weeks before our current wave and it's now subsided and hopefully that'll happen here in a week or so," he added.

Additional reporting Reuters