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Vaccination plan for children to be published within days, Taoiseach says

By Cate McCurry, PA

A plan to offer Covid-19 vaccinations to children aged five to 11 will be published within days, the Taoiseach has said.

On Wednesday, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) recommended to Government that jabs should be offered to around 480,000 primary school children.

The State’s vaccine advisory body signed off on their use, with the roll-out expected to take place from next month.

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The dose for this age group will be lower than those given to adults.

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The Department of Health and the HSE are now making plans to work in the new age group into Ireland’s vaccine programme.

Micheál Martin said that an information plan will be published in days.

“Niac have now made recommendations around the administration of paediatric vaccines,” he told the Dáil.

“They have recommended the following – that children aged five to 11 years with an underlying condition, living with a younger child with complex medical needs, or living with an immunocompromised adult should receive the Pfizer vaccine.

“This should be offered in parallel with booster doses for those with an underlying condition.

 

“The Department of Health and the HSE are now working on a plan involving the information campaign, and we will do that and be back in a number of days with a plan.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that it is “another positive step forward” in the country’s response to the pandemic.

“As the country continues to experience a high incidence of disease, we have seen a significant increase in confirmed cases of Covid-19 in this age group,” Mr Donnelly added.

“While we know that most children will experience a very mild form of this disease if they pick it up, for a small few, they may become severely ill.

“Extending the possibility of vaccination to this age group offers another layer of protection to our children, and to those around them.”

Blame game

Meanwhile, Mr Martin said he did not intend to blame people for not showing up to vaccine booster appointments, but rather show there is not the same public urgency.

The Fianna Fáil leader told the Dáil on Tuesday that 215,000 appointments for Covid-19 booster shots were missed in the last two weeks.

He said that in the week beginning November 22nd, 208,000 appointments were made, but about 80,000 people turned up to receive their booster shot.

Last week 180,000 appointments were made, but 93,000 people turned up.

Catherine Murphy, co-leader of the Social Democrats, said this could also be due to faults within the HSE’s vaccine booking system.

She said: “Eligible people can now get boosters from the GPs, pharmacies and indeed vaccination centres.

“The only problem is the system doesn’t seem to capable of talking to each other.

“Instead of blaming people for not turning up to their appointments can you tell us what is being done to solve the issues of the booking system.”

She also urged the Government to publish a vaccine plan from now until the new year.

“That information would be very important to allay concerns over the new variant and also important in terms of giving people hope for the new year, including for sectors impacted by restrictions,” Ms Murphy added.

Mr Martin said: “It’s not blaming people, but it’s to underline the importance of the booster, particularly in light of the Omicron arrival.

“There is still a bit to go in interpretation of the data and research and science. It seems to indicate we are looking at a more infectious and more transmissible variant, but that vaccinations still gives protection against disease.

“There has to be a clear message from all of us that when you get the opportunity to get the booster, to please take it. It does give you quick increase in antibodies and capacity to resist severe disease.

“The HSE are working through their systems and are constantly reviewing how best to maximise the uptake in the next number of weeks, in terms of booster campaign.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that a decision on providing a support package for the hospitality and arts sectors will be made later on Wednesday.

Mr Varadkar said the final details were being put in place today to help businesses effected by the latest Covid-19 restrictions.

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