The Cabinet has agreed to extend Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout to those aged 12 to 15 years old.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney confirmed the decision after the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) recommended vaccinations be extended to the cohort of children.
The extension of the vaccination programme to the younger age group will be “a significant advantage” for the return to school and in stopping the spread of the Delta variant, Mr Coveney told RTÉ radio’s News at One.
The Government “will supply lots of reassurance” to parents who will make the decision to vaccinate “with their children,” he added.
It comes as the Taoiseach has confirmed the first walk-in Covid-19 vaccination centres in the country are to open this weekend, to encourage uptake among younger people.
'More confidence about the reopening'
Mr Coveney said it was hoped that vaccination of those aged 12 to 15 could commence as soon as next month. There was a very strong demand amongst young people to be vaccinated, he added.
Ireland was a world leader with the pace of the vaccination programme, and uptake showed that there was a lot of trust “in the science”, Mr Coveney said. He anticipated there would also be good uptake in the 12 to 15 cohort.
“It gives us a lot more confidence about the reopening of society.”
There had been a lot of discussion with the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) about herd immunity – what percentage of vaccination levels would be required to stop the spread of the virus, Mr Coveney said.
As the variants become more and more aggressive, the level of herd immunity would get “higher and higher”.
Once the level of vaccination was over 80 per cent for all of the population, then the country would be in “a strong space.”
However, the Minister cautioned that while the vaccine programme had been a great success, “we’re not there yet.” He added: “We need to be cautious still.”
Speaking earlier on his way into today's Cabinet meeting, Micheál Martin said the focus has now turned to getting young people vaccinated, with full details of the walk-in centres expected to be announced by the HSE later, according to the Irish Examiner.
"I think it has been a very effective programme so far - but we want to encourage high participation rates now among the remaining age cohorts," Mr Martin said.
"To that extent, the HSE will be adding walk-in vaccination centres over the bank holiday weekend to facilitate further vaccination among 16, 17, 18-year-olds onwards in particular," he added.
After considering international data on the vaccination of younger people, Niac is understood to have recommended to the Government that all children in the 12-15 age group should be offered the vaccine.
The consent of a guardian will be required for a child to receive the shot, with appointments hoped to start "as soon as possible".
Mr Coveney also confirmed that the number of people allowed to attend weddings will increase to 100 on August 5th. This was because weddings were special occasions and the same could not be done for every event, he added.
“This doesn’t mean that we’re through this pandemic. There could still be a sting in the tail.”
On Monday, the Department of Health confirmed 1,345 new cases of Covid-19 with 87 per cent of cases recorded among people under the age of 45.
—Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke.