By Cate McCurry, PA
The Taoiseach has said that annual shots of Covid-19 vaccines may be needed to retain immunity from the virus.
Micheál Martin said the HSE is assessing plans to “switch on and switch off” vaccination programmes for annual jabs.
Mr Martin said he could not “definitively” say whether the highly contagious Omicron variant could help build up mass immunity through infections.
The Fianna Fáil leader said if the Omicron variant is less severe but more infectious, that it could “create a new horizon”.
Asked whether the Omicron variant could help the country out of the pandemic through mass infection, Mr Martin said: “Some people have put forward that view but I’m not expert enough, to be frank, to say that definitively.
“We know Omicron has actually re-infected people who’ve been infected before with Delta, which opens up the horizon of potential reinfection into the future.
“The key issue would be severity, you know, in terms of if it’s much more infectious but less impactful. That could create a new horizon – a new scenario – for the future.
“I’d be more hopeful than not that we’d be getting better at this. I just don’t have the data to be definitive about the surge.”
Mr Martin said the vaccination programme has been the “big game changer” over the last 12 months.
“Do we really think we’d be open today in terms of retail, construction and everything else if we had 4,500 cases or 5,000 cases and no vaccination?” he said. “So, to me, it is the big game changer.”
He added: “I know already Europe is already preparing a potential new dose or new vaccine for variants.
“That work is under way with the companies. One could be looking at an annual vaccination programme.
“I know the HSE are looking at a sort of stronger independent capacity that they can switch on and switch off vaccination programmes around this issue.”
Mr Martin said the country will get better at dealing with Covid and emerging variants through antivirals and new treatments.
“That’s how I see us coping with Covid into the future whilst allowing our full economy back,” he added.
“The economy has come roaring back since we reopened since March.
“We have to be careful of that too because a lot of that energy was captured or suppressed by the Covid restrictions.
“There’s also a level of stimulus in terms of the European-wide stimulus programme and a lot of inflation has come through that but, nonetheless, the manufacturing side of our economy has been very strong and there’ll be a lot of domestic demand for quite a while.
“So we are in a much better position from that perspective than we would have been without vaccinations.
“You have advances in medicines for 2022. I’m more optimistic even though the current situation doesn’t reflect that.”