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Children aged 12 to 15 at high risk to be prioritised in Covid vaccine rollout

This will also extend to those who live with people with underlying conditions.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Shutterstock

THE MINISTER FOR Health has said children at high risk of serious illness from Covid-19 will be prioritised in the next stage of the vaccine rollout.

Stephen Donnelly also said children won’t need to receive a Covid vaccine in order to return to school.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that such a move is “not on the cards and won’t be on the cards”.

He was speaking after it was announced that Covid vaccines will be made available to children aged between 12 and 15 years. It follows new advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).

While a date for the commencement of these vaccinations wasn’t given, the Minister said it is expected to involve a combination of vaccine centres and GPs, and consist of the two mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna (Spikevax) and Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty).

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced in May that the Pfizer vaccine was safe and effective for use in people aged 12 and up, and that the benefits outweigh the risks.

A similar recommendation was made for Moderna’s vaccine last Friday.

An information campaign is set to be launched to ensure parents are fully informed about the safety and efficacy of Covid vaccines in children.

The Minister for Health also confirmed that booster shots for adults will be made available alongside the winter flu vaccination programme, to begin in September, for residents of long term care facilities, frontline healthcare workers, people aged 80 and over, and those who are immunocompromised.

2283 Cabinet Meeting Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

“The biggest priority for me has been 12- to 15-year-olds with underlying conditions,” Donnelly said.

We’re obviously doing the planning now and poring over the NIAC advice, but I think it’s likely there will be a role for GPs, particularly where parents have a child with underlying conditions, they have a relationship with a GP, they’d like to talk to their GP.

“Parents will have some reasonable questions they’ll want to discuss.”

Donnelly added that 12- to 15-year-olds would be accompanied by an adult when receiving their vaccine.

The Minister also defended the government’s decision to offer vaccines to this age demographic, despite their comparatively low risk of serious illness, citing both the benefit of protecting adolescents from the impact of Long Covid as well as the benefits for the wider community.

As well as those with underlying conditions, children who live with or are in contact with people with underlying conditions are likely to be prioritised.

Under 12s

Donnelly said he did not anticipate a decision to be made on the rollout of Covid vaccines to children under the age of 12 this year. Any such move would first have to be approved by the European Medicines Agency.

Authorities in the United States expect approval to be granted ‘within months’ for administering vaccines to those aged under 12.

Donnelly added that he is examining how Ireland can play a “very strong role” internationally in the distribution of vaccines to low-income countries through programmes such as Covax and Gavi.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged rich countries to delay the vaccination of children and instead donate surplus vaccines for distribution to developing countries.

“I think it is absolutely ethical and right that we protect our own children, and that we protect our own community, but that’s not enough,” Donnelly said.

WHO previously advised that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is suitable for use in people aged 12 and above, showing high efficacy and safety, and that countries should consider vaccinating younger people – in particular those at high risk of serious illness -  if a large proportion of other age groups are already vaccinated.

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Covid vaccines are now available to everyone aged 16 and up in Ireland, with the HSE portal opening for those aged 16 and 17 yesterday. “Well in excess” of 10,000 people signed up within the first two hours, Donnelly said.

As of 27 July, 70.73% of Ireland’s adult population is now fully vaccinated, with 9.68% partially vaccinated.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said that more than 50,000 doses were administered yesterday.

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Nicky Ryan

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