Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said there was “absolutely no suggestion” that unvaccinated children could not return to school.
It was “ethical and right” to protect children and society from coronavirus, but it was up to parents to decide if their child should be vaccinated against Covid-19, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
Ireland had a high take-up of Covid vaccines, he said, pointing out that in the first 90 minutes of the opening of the HSE portal to register 16- to 17-year-olds, there had been 10,000 registrations.
Speaking earlier on Newstalk radio, Mr Donnelly said his priority was to get the vaccine to children aged 12-15 who were at high risk or vulnerable or were from families with such conditions.
There were 269,000 children in the 12-15 age group, he said. There was a need to listen carefully and respectfully to any parents who had concerns, but the National Immunisation Advisory Committee had determined that the benefits of being vaccinated far outweighed any risks.
Mr Donnelly outlined the plans for booster vaccines in the autumn, which will be combined with the flu vaccine.
“We’ll have the biggest vaccine activity in any winter in the history of the State. We’re looking at the best way to do that,” he said.
The priority will be four cohorts – residential care home residents, frontline workers, the over-80s and the immuno compromised, he told RTÉ.
When asked about the Tánaiste’s request for more detailed Covid hospital statistics, Mr Donnelly said he agreed that it was important to know the vaccination status of patients – whether they had their first or second dose, how many days they were after their second dose.
Of the 124 Covid patients who had been in intensive care, only one had had both doses. The Department of Health was working with the HSE to get such information, he said.
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 adviser for the Irish College of General Practitioners, Dr Mary Favier, has said that GPs would be happy to answer any questions parents might have about giving the vaccine to their children.
Dr Favier, who is also a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), told Newstalk radio that parents of high risk or vulnerable children had been asking for the vaccine for some time.
GPs were prepared to address any concerns parents could have about the vaccine, which had been proven to be effective and safe with very few side effects.
Currently one in five Covid cases were in this age group, said Dr Favier, which was why vaccination was so important for the individuals and for the population in general. She anticipated that the vaccine rollout to this cohort would commence with high risk and vulnerable children and would then be open to all in the 12-15 age group.
Extending the vaccination programme to this age group was going to have “a huge impact” on the return to school and would play an important role in education in general, she added.
While children generally did not experience extreme symptoms from Covid-19, said Dr Favier, there had been cases of long Covid. This was a significant concern and parents would want their children to be safe.
It would be an individual decision for parents, but GPs would be there to assist them with answers.