Former Education Minister Peter Weir believes children over 12 in Northern Ireland should be offered the option to take the Covid-19 vaccine, in line with the Republic of Ireland.
The Irish Government extended Covid vaccines to children aged between 12 and 15 years of age on Tuesday.
The Cabinet accepted advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee that recommends the extension of the vaccination programme to children in that age group.
It is understood that teenagers in the Republic of Ireland could start receiving the mRNA vaccine from next week to ensure a high number is vaccinated before schools return.
Teenagers aged 16 and 17 could register for a Covid-19 vaccine appointment in the Republic from Tuesday.
Writing on Twitter on Tuesday, DUP MLA Mr Weir said the highest number of people in Northern Ireland’s intensive care units are the young and middle aged.
He said that it would “appear” that the majority are unvaccinated.
“No one is invulnerable,” continued Mr Weir. “Don’t be in a hospital bed or looking over a loved one in a bed, wishing you had got the vaccine. Get the jab now.
“The Republic are set to offer the option of the vaccine for all over 12s, subject to parental wishes.
“I believe this will reduce community transmission and will reduce school absences in the new term. In the UK we need to make the same offer.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra, Mr Weir said it was not about imposing the vaccine on parents and their children, but giving them the opportunity to get the jab if they wish.
“It’s beyond simply the clinical implications of what happens in terms of hospitalisation, but we know that if there is a much greater level of vaccination this will, I think, have a very positive impact in a wider societal side of things but also in an educational point of view,” he explained.
“If we see large numbers of infections within society - even if there is a low level of hospitalisation - that’s likely to have a knock on effect in terms of disruption of education.”
Mr Weir added that the “scale of disruption” to the education sector will be greater if a precautionary approach is not taken but he did not expect “any form of massive collapse”.
When asked if the current Education Minister Michelle McIlveen agrees with him, Mr Weir said he knows that his DUP colleague will do all she can to protect schools and young people’s education.