Ireland’s chief medical officer has urged parents of children aged 12 to 15 to get them vaccinated after the Government moved to extend the programme to younger teenagers.
The Cabinet on Tuesday accepted advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) that recommends the extension of the vaccination programme to more children in their teens.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “Almost 70% of our population is now fully vaccinated and today the vaccination programme has been extended to 12 to 15-year-olds, who will also be able to register for an mRNA vaccine.
“Following advice from NIAC, which has been approved by Government, I encourage parents and guardians of those aged 12-15 years of age to register them for a vaccination as soon as the opportunity arises.
“The vaccination programme has received high uptake to date.
“I strongly urge anyone eligible to register for a vaccine to do so as soon as possible.”
It is understood that teenagers in the age group could start receiving the mRNA vaccines from next week to ensure a high number is vaccinated before schools return.
Those aged 16 and 17 could register for a Covid-19 vaccine appointment from Tuesday.
Changes will be made to the online portal system to allow for parental consent.
Anyone under the age of 16 will have to be accompanied by an adult to get their vaccine.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly warned parents to ignore misinformation posted on social media as he urged people to only get their information from official sources.
“I would encourage parents to ignore the social media misinformation, there is a lot of nonsense out there, there is a lot of scaremongering out there,” Mr Donnelly added.
We are continuing to see an increase in cases of Covid-19 among our young people, and vaccination, along with continued adherence to the public health advice, remains the best protection we can offerStephen Donnelly
“I am delighted to be in a position to confirm that our young people will be offered an opportunity to protect themselves from Covid-19.
“Yesterday, I announced that the vaccine registration portal was opening to all those aged 16 and 17 years old and today’s announcement is an important step in offering that same protection to our younger population.
“We are continuing to see an increase in cases of Covid-19 among our young people and vaccination, along with continued adherence to the public health advice, remains the best protection we can offer.
“Support for parents and young people will be made available to help them make the best decision for them.”
“The outstanding progress of our Covid-19 vaccination programme is making continues.
“To date, we have administered 5.55 million doses.
“This has resulted in a marked reduction in levels of severe disease and hospitalisation and enabled us to continue with the safe reopening of Irish society.”
Mr Donnelly said that public health officials are particularly keen that teenagers and children with underlying health problems are vaccinated.
He added: “I’m a parent myself and I think it’s very natural that parents will have questions and they will always do what is right by their children.
“We will do everything we can to make sure that the facts are available.”
More than 5.5 million doses have been administered across the country, with more than 69% of people fully vaccinated, and over 83% partially vaccinated.
The Government warned, however, that the incidence of the Delta variant in Ireland poses a significant risk, particularly to those who are not yet fully vaccinated.
Mr Donnelly also said that the Department of Health and the Department of Foreign Affairs will donate Covid-19 vaccines which are not needed in Ireland overseas.
Earlier, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the inclusion of children represents a “significant opening up” of the vaccination programme to young people.
He said it has been an effective programme to date, but wanted to encourage high participation rates among the remaining age cohorts.
“To that extent the HSE will be adding walk-in vaccination centres over the Bank Holiday weekend to facilitate further vaccination among the 16, 17 and 18-year-olds onwards,” he added.
Cabinet also agreed to allow 100 people to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions from August 5.
Christening and baptism ceremonies will also be allowed to go ahead, although no post-receptions can take place.
Meanwhile, Minister for Education Norma Foley brought a memo to Cabinet which she said confirms that plans are in place for the full reopening of schools.
The evidence available from the operation of schools during Covid-19 to date shows that schools are low risk environments due to the infection prevention and control measures in placeNorma Foley
“We are in constant communication with public health specialists ahead of the new school year and we can confirm that we are preparing for a full return of schools in late August and early September,” Ms Foley said.
“Public Health has stated that the new variants of the disease do not change the infection prevention and control measures required in schools.
“The evidence available from the operation of schools during Covid-19 to date shows that schools are low-risk environments due to the infection prevention and control measures in place.
“The provision of CO2 monitors for every school will be an important tool in keeping our schools safe and, in addition to the mitigation measures already in place, our staff and students can be confident of returning to safe environments in our schools.”
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland said that when schools reopen, health and safety should be “paramount”.
Union general secretary Michael Gallagher said they welcomed the minister’s commitment to provide CO2 monitors to schools.
“In engagements with the department in the coming weeks we will continue to raise the concerns of our members, particularly in relation to those who are pregnant or may have underlying health issues,” he added.