An updated plan for the rollout of Covid-19 vaccine boosters, which is expected to see the first children aged five to 11 inoculated and offer an indication as to when people in their 40s will get their next shot, is being prepared by the HSE.
The plan is to be finalised within days and comes amid concern over the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and signs of a considerable public appetite for third doses.
A further four cases of Omicron, the latest coronavirus variant of concern, have been detected in the State, bringing the total to 10. Another five cases of the strain were reported in Northern Ireland.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson last night said that all over-18s in England would be offered their Covid-19 booster jab by the new year, in response to what he called an approaching “tidal wave” of Omicron infections. The number of cases of the variant detected in the UK increased by almost 40 per cent yesterday to 3,137.
With the variant, first detected in South Africa and said to be highly transmissible, forecast to soon become more prevalent in Ireland, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said it was time to “boost the booster campaign”.
“We’re on target to have 1.5 million people receive their booster by Christmas and this week we’ll see an updated roadmap on boosters published by the Department of Health,” he told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.
|Confirmed cases in hospital||Confirmed cases in ICU|
The booster campaign has to date been extended to all people aged over 50 and demand appears strong, with long queues reported at some centres for walk-in clinic over the weekend.
The HSE is planning to increase capacity at mass vaccination centres by 25 per cent to 200,000 shots per week, with tens of thousands of shots also being administered in GP surgeries and pharmacies.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) has signed off on the use of lower-dose vaccines for about 480,000 five- to 11-year-olds in the State. A health service source said much of the focus of the HSE’s updated vaccine programme would be on the initial rollout to young children.
Niac advised that children with underlying conditions, those who live with a younger child with complex medical needs, or who have a family member who is immunocompromised should be vaccinated first.
A plan for the rollout to this group – including a special registration process – is due to be ready by Thursday or Friday.
The source said they did not immediately expect to be able to set a “hard and fast date” at that point for the rollout to begin to the over 40s as the impact of children being vaccinated on the capacity of the system would have to be assessed.
Vaccinations of the over 50s and 60s will continue as more people in these age groups reach the threshold for getting the booster jabs five months after their second dose. The source said there is no specific pressure coming from Government to start boosters for the over-40s but there is a general focus on “numbers, numbers, numbers”.
With large case numbers still being reported daily, Mr Harris said it remained the Government’s intention to reopen schools and third-level education as planned after Christmas when asked if Omicron could force their closure.
The Government has made up to €72 million available to schools and childcare services to improve ventilation as part of efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among children and staff.