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Coronavirus Update

March 5, 2020 Alpha1 Admin Comments Off

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways.  It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

UPDATED: January 19th 2022

Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (Alpha-1 for short) is a genetic condition and many people with it are healthy and well.  For this group, the risk to your health due to COVID-19 is the same as someone your age without a diagnosis of Alpha-1 and you should follow the public health advice around wearing a face mask and reducing social interactions as much as possible (more details on the HSE website here).  However, some people with Alpha-1 have serious lung diseases like COPD and emphysema and are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.  If you have serious lung (or liver) disease caused by Alpha-1 you need to exercise caution to avoid infection with COVID-19.  This should involve precautionary measures to ensure your safety as a vulnerable person with a serious health condition.  This can mean staying at home as much as possible and avoiding unnecessary contact with other people.


Ireland continues to have a high level of COVID-19 infection in the community. However, the vast majority of people are protected by the COVID-19 vaccines and the number of new infections has started to decrease. You can read more on the public health measures currently in place here. 

The public health advice is that the future trajectory remains uncertain. The steps everyone can take to help reduce the spread of the virus are:

  • If you have any symptoms of COVID-19 then stay at home. If you are aged between 4-39 then you should take an antigen test. If you get a positive result then you should register your result with the HSE. For those aged 3 or under or 40 or above – you should still book a PCR test as soon as you notice symptoms.
  • Get your booster vaccine if you are eligible – being vaccinated offers good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation and lowers the risk to you and others. For information on how to book your booster visit the HSE website here
  • Remember to R.S.V.P. before you meet up with people – think of the Risk, Symptoms, Venue, People – go to gov.ie/riskaware to help assess the risk involved in any activities you have planned and the measures you can take to minimise your risk.
  • Government advice is that everyone should take account of their overall health, their vaccination status, and the spread of Omicron in other countries before they decide to travel. To get further information before you travel, go to gov.ie/travel.

We continue to recommend that all people who are ZZ regardless of symptoms (i.e. whether healthy or not) should closely follow public health advice, exercise caution and reduce unnecessary social contacts.  Advice for other forms of Alpha-1 stays the same.  For those with Alpha-1 who are ZZ, SZ or MZ and who do have severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), severe liver disease, or have received a lung or liver transplant it remains vital to follow health advice and reduce unnecessary social contacts.  This will reduce the risk of life threatening COVID-19 infection.  If you have any questions about this advice please contact us on 01-8093871 or email alpha1@rcsi.ie.

Following requests by Alpha-1 Foundation Ireland in 2020, HSE guidelines changed to include people with severe lung disease caused by Alpha-1 (be that ZZ, SZ, or MZ) as a high risk group.  This group should continue to follow the public health advice to stay home as much as you can and reduce unnecessary contact with other people, leaving home for exercise or essential shopping.  To be clear, the following Alpha-1 groups should exercise caution and reduce unnecessary social contacts as much as possible:

  • All people who are ZZ, whether healthy or not
  • People who are SZ or MZ with severe lung disease (e.g. COPD, emphysema, bronchiectasis) or severe liver disease (e.g. cirrhosis)
  • People who are ZZ, SZ, or MZ and have received a lung or liver transplant

NOTE: If you do not know what type of Alpha-1 you have, you can ring the Foundation on 01-8093871 to discuss.


COVID 19 Vaccination Booster Dose: Latest Update

People aged 16 and older can get their COVID-19 vaccine booster dose now. This includes people who have a weak immune system. To book an appointment or find a clinic near you, visit here.

You need to wait at least 3 months (90 days) after your vaccine course before you can get a booster dose. If you have had COVID-19 since you were vaccinated you should get your booster dose at least 3 months after your positive result.

Please bring photo ID that shows your date of birth to your appointment or walk-in clinic.

COVID-19 vaccination for children aged 5-11: COVID-19 vaccine registration remains open for children aged 5-11. A parent or legal guardian can register and give consent here.

Flu vaccine: The flu is now circulating in Europe and people who are at risk should get their free flu vaccine at participating GP and pharmacies including those aged 50 or over and pregnant women. Find a participating pharmacy here.

Treatments for COVID-19

Medications and treatments for COVID-19 will start to become available in Ireland soon. The HSE is working with clinical teams across the country to ensure the limited supplies of these new medications are targeted toward people who are most at risk. We’ll provide more information on these treatments as they become available, and look forward to sharing information about this positive development.

Other Vaccine Information

  • Pregnancy and getting a COVID-19 vaccine: You can find more information here.
  • Free flu vaccine for all at-risk groups: From Monday 1st November 2021, the HSE is encouraging all at-risk groups to make an appointment with their GP or Pharmacist for their free flu vaccine. It’s flu season and while anyone can catch the flu, some people are more at risk of catching the flu, getting seriously ill or needing hospital treatment. People at risk include those with certain long term conditions, pregnant women, those aged 65 or over and all children aged 2 to 17. The campaign pack contains messages and graphics you can use to share information with your networks. Learn more: ie/flu

COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign for People with Alpha-1

Since the start of the pandemic, Alpha-1 Foundation Ireland has been working hard to highlight that people with Alpha-1 are at a higher risk of serious illness due to COVID-19, particularly those with lung disease like COPD and emphysema.  The first positive impact of our work was when the HSE included Alpha-1 in the list of high risk conditions in their official advice here.

As vaccines started to become available around Europe in middle to late 2020, we began working with other groups like IPPOSI and Cystic Fibrosis Ireland to make sure people with underlying medical conditions would be among the first to receive the vaccine.  Working together with many other groups can be a much more effective way to be heard and to achieve change.  An example of the successful IPPOSI vaccine campaign was the joint letter we co-signed with 14 other groups on December 8th 2020. This letter (click here) from patient organisations and vulnerable group representatives was sent to Government, High-Level Task Force, NPHET and HSE representatives charged with developing a national immunisation plan for a COVID vaccine.  A second joint letter (view here) from 19 organisations, including Alpha-1 Foundation Ireland, was sent on February 1st 2021 to urge the Government to prioritise people with chronic and rare diseases, of all ages, in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.  Thank you to Laura Kavanagh and Derick Mitchell of IPPOSI who continue to lead a superb campaign on this vital issue.  For further information on the IPPOSI vaccine campaign, visit the IPPOSI website here.

In addition to this united approach, Alpha-1 Foundation Ireland also made its own representation to the Minister for Health in January to stress that people with serious lung disease caused by Alpha-1 are a high risk group and therefore should be prioritised for early vaccination.

Finally, the National Centre of Expertise for Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD) at Beaumont Hospital made a submission to the National Clinical Programme for Rare Diseases and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) in January. This included scientific evidence to support the categorisation of people with serious lung disease (e.g. severe COPD) caused by Alpha-1 as a very high risk group and as a result in urgent need of early vaccination.

NOTE: The COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy sets out a provisional priority list of groups for vaccination once a safe and effective vaccine(s) has received authorisation from the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The national vaccine strategy was developed by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and Department of Health, endorsed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), and approved by Government on 8 December 2020.

Most recently, the government announced on February 23rd that people with underlying medical conditions would receive a higher priority than was originally suggested.  This is very welcome news and it is hoped that everyone who is in a very high (e.g. severe COPD) or high (e.g. moderate COPD) risk group will receive their vaccine in the coming weeks and months.  For more on the vaccine allocation groups visit here.  It is worth remembering that this is a provisional vaccine allocation strategy and will evolve and adapt as more detailed information on the vaccines and their effectiveness becomes available.

Top Tips from Alpha-1 Expert Professor Gerry McElvaney

1. The vaccine is designed to prepare your immune system in case you contract the COVID-19 virus. After you are vaccinated, you are far less likely to suffer serious illness if you are infected by COVID-19.
2. If you are offered a vaccine please take it, regardless of your phenotype (ZZ, SZ, MZ) or whether you have lung or liver disease. All vaccines currently being used in Ireland have been proven to be safe and effective.
3. The vast majority of side effects are minor and are not long-lasting. These include a fever, headache, tiredness, and pain in the area you received the vaccine (usually upper arm).
4. Drink plenty of water & get as much rest as possible after you receive the vaccine to reduce the side effects. Take paracetamol if you have a high temperature or fever.
5. All vaccines currently available in Ireland require a second dose but that may change with newer vaccines in the future. Even in those vaccines requiring a second dose there is evidence of some protection after the first dose.


Remember your family and friends can be your first line of defence in preventing infection.  Please encourage them to strictly adhere to the hygiene guidelines and refrain from any contact with you until they have washed their hands and taken all necessary steps.  Everyone can play a role to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In order to support the Alpha-1 community during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have two processes in place:

  1. An Alpha-1 Helpline [01-8093749] is available Monday to Friday 1pm – 2pm. This will be attended by a member of the Alpha-1 Medical team who will answer any concerns you may have.
  2. For all other times we invite people to submit questions to alpha1@rcsi.ie and we will respond in a timely fashion.

For people with a lung disease, such as emphysema or COPD, there is an excellent Q&A interview with an infectious diseases expert that can be found on the European Lung Foundation website here.  This article has been updated since it first appeared and now includes even more information and advice for people with lung problems. 

There is an excellent new COVID-19 section on the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre website here.  The World Health Organisation also has an excellent Q&A section here. This page and a dedicated WHO Coronavirus website here are being updated regularly as knowledge of the virus improves. 

Importantly, if you are a Medical Card or GP Visit Card holder whose card has recently expired, or is due to expire soon, the HSE has extended eligibility automatically for up to one year for existing cards which expire during the COVID-19 pandemic.  For more information on this issue visit the HSE website here.

NOTE: Always remember to get your information from reliable and trusted sources, and do not use unverified sources on the internet or on social media. 


HSE COVID-19 Tracker App

The free HSE smartphone app is designed to help improve contact tracing for COVID-19.  The app will make contact tracing faster and more accurate, reducing the spread of COVID-19.  We strongly recommend people download the HSE COVID Tracker App here to help protect those who are vulnerable.  To read more information on the app in simple terms click here.

If you use the app, you can:

  • get an alert if you have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19
  • alert others if you test positive for COVID-19 – this will help keep other people safe
  • track your symptoms and get advice on what to do if you’re sick
  • get regular updates, and protect yourself and others as we learn to live with COVID-19

Minding your long-term health condition during the COVID-19 pandemic

An information leaflet to support people living with a long-term health condition can be downloaded here.  This leaflet provides practical and clear information to support people to manage their long-term health condition and to stay well. This resource was developed by the National Self-management Support Coordinator Team and approved by the National Clinical Care Programmes for Diabetes, Respiratory and Heart Failure.

Weekly Activity Planner for people with dementia, families and carers

A Weekly Activity Planner containing suggestions for a balanced plan of physical, cognitive and relaxing activities, to assist with creating new routines can be downloaded here.

Minding your Mental Health

The spread of COVID-19 is a new and challenging event.  Some people might find it more worrying than others and may need some extra support.  There are many things you can do to mind your mental health during times like this.  Read more about the mental health resources that are available here.  There is also a Mental Wellbeing campaign “In This Together” which offers support and resources for people to help deal with stress and isolation, and also helps people maintain wellbeing and cope at home during this time.  The “In This Together” website can be found here.



Importantly, because health information and guidance on COVID-19 can change rapidly, Alpha-1 Foundation Ireland recommends that the Alpha-1 community review the following 3 websites on a regular basis.  They are key sources of reliable, expert health information about COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

  • To find out more about COVID-19 (Coronavirus) visit the HSE website here
  • For latest updates from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre visit here
  • For travel advice visit the Department of Foreign Affairs website here

If you have concerns you may have COVID-19 (Coronavirus) visit the HSE website on COVID-19 testing here.  For all other health issues please contact your GP as normal.  

If you want to find out more about Alpha-1 why not check out our video gallery here.