James Ward, PA
A new plan for the rollout of booster vaccinations will be published this week, with the Government aiming to administer 1.5 million jabs by Christmas.
Minister for Further Education Simon Harris said the Government was “very eager” to roll out boosters to the over-40s.
The importance of the booster campaign has been underlined by the threat of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, with studies showing that three doses are needed to offer significant protection against it.
An additional four cases of Omicron were detected on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases identified in the State to 10.
“This week will be the week that we published an updated plan to see how quickly we can get the booster administered to as many people as possible, with a target of 1.5 million people by Christmas,” Mr Harris told RTÉ’s The Week In Politics.
“At the moment the booster campaign is open to everybody over the age of 50.
“We’d like to see if we can be more ambitious in that regard, absolutely, because it is a race between the Omicron variant and the booster.
“While we’re learning an awful lot about this new variant, it does seem extremely encouraging, the news around the benefit of that third dose in relation to the new variant.
“So getting this done as quickly as possible is a priority for Government and (we) expect very significant developments this week.”
The Department of Health is developing plans for the most efficient rollout of the booster vaccine.
It is currently only available for people over the age of 50 and those with underlying conditions, but the Government is keen to open it up to the over-40 demographic.
Mr Harris said: “I think we’re very eager to move ahead with people above the age of 40, but it’s very important that we check how that can be operationalised best.
“Obviously we also have plans now in relation to a vaccine programme for children. So this is the week that will see the updated plan for the rollout of the booster vaccines.”
The booster rollout has been beset by difficulties, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin warning earlier in the week that 215,000 appointments had been missed in a fortnight.
But he also had to apologise to people who were turned away from walk-in centres that could not meet the demand from the public.
Some centres saw waiting times of over two-and-a-half hours, while others were forced to turn people away.
Mr Harris said it was important to remember that people would be offered appointments, with walk-in centres provided as an additional option.
He said: “I know a lot of people are worried at the moment about walk-ins and queues and the likes, I mean it is important to bring this back to first principles.
“If you’re eligible for a booster vaccine, you will receive an appointment and the walk-in centres are an additional way we’re opening all channels to try and get as many people boosted as possible.”
On Sunday there were a further 4,667 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, the Department of Health said.
As of Sunday morning, there were 504 patients in hospitals with the disease, 109 of them in intensive care units.