Updated: 9am - Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke
General practitioners are hoping to double the number of Covid-19 booster vaccines they can administer from the current level of 80,000 per week.
Speaking to RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland, Covid lead with the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) Dr Mary Favier said GPs will be delaying all non-essential work to focus on delivering the booster campaign in the coming weeks.
The booster vaccines will be administered on an appointment basis with supplies being ordered today, Dr Favier said, adding it is likely to be next week before the campaign would commence in earnest.
GPs would need to plan the campaign and would call patients when they were due their booster, she said.
Dr Favier also explained the 15-minute post vaccine wait time was “a significant challenge” for GPs as it is a “big limiting step”. If removed, as had been done in the UK, it would allow GPs to vaccinate more patients, she said.
However, a decision on removing the time limit would be up to the Government and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), she added.
Asked if schools should close early for the Christmas break this weekend, Dr Favier said there was no one answer on how to address the spread of the virus, adding that a multi-layered approach was needed.
She added it was always going to be a balance. She explained that if children were out of school, it could impact parent's ability to go to work.
It was up to everyone as individuals to monitor their personal behaviour, she warned, adding that if someone tested positive for Covid-19 today they would still be in isolation on Christmas Day.
Dr Favier's comments come as the Government is reportedly planning to overhaul the rollout of booster vaccines over the coming weeks with healthcare and public sector staff being redeployed in an effort to tackle a potential wave of Omicron infections.
According to The Irish Times, hundreds of additional GPs and pharmacists will be asked to join the booster programme in order to administer as many jabs as possible to give the population better protection if the new variant becomes the dominant strain here.
Vaccination centres around the country will operate extended opening hours over the coming weeks, in addition to more centres being set-up. The testing capacity will also be increased to record levels under the new plans.
The Government hopes to see all GPs offering the booster jab, up from approximately 75 per cent currently, and 1,000 pharmacies, up from around 550.
It is expected that children in high-risk categories will begin receiving the vaccine from December 20th, followed by other cohorts on January 10th. People in their 30s and 40s are also expected to hear before Christmas as to when they will receive their additional dose.
On Tuesday evening, Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed 1.25 million people have now received the booster jab, soon after chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan indicated approximately 14 per cent of new infections in the State are the Omicron variant.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) will meet again on Thursday to discuss the need for additional measures over Christmas to avoid a surge of infections as was seen last year. However, it is understood the Government is resistant to any such move.