high alert | 

Booster jab roll-out to ramp up next week as Government set to approve mask wearing for children aged nine and above

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

Eilish O'Regan and Katherine Donnelly

The roll-out of booster vaccines will be stepped up amid fears the new potentially highly infectious Covid-19 variant will spread to this country soon.

There are concerns the newly classified variant of concern may leave people at increased risk of reinfection.

It comes as Ireland is still battling the more immediate threat of the Delta surge that has sent cases of the virus soaring.

The new variant, named Omicron, appears to be increasing in all provinces in South Africa and has been found in Belgium.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that “this variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning”.

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant as compared with other variants of concern,” it said.

Screening for the variant is to get under way at the National Virus Reference Laboratory in Ireland in a bid to detect any cases, targeting confirmed cases with a particular travel history.

The European Centre for Disease Control in a threat assessment last night called on countries to consider boosters for all adults, prioritising the over-40s.

The HSE is set to roll out up to 220,000 booster shots and third vaccines next week in a bid to curb waning immunity.

Everyone over 16 who is at least five months fully jabbed is to be offered a booster shot following new recommendations yesterday .

People who got the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be offered a booster after three months.

A spokesman for the HSE said: “Next week we expect to do well over 200,000 booster and additional doses, and probably 220,000”.

He also confirmed the contract to use the Aviva stadium in Dublin as a vaccination centre had come to an end and the HSE believed it had sufficient capacity in the region with five other settings, including Croke Park.

The aim is to scale up the roll-out to 270,000 shots a week but it still falls short of the 300,000 vaccines a week the HSE delivered during the summer.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said last night parents should follow the recommendations of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and keep children away from indoor gatherings such as playdates and birthday parties and not be involved in nativity plays.

Formal advice on these restrictions is expected to be issued next week.

The advice was for the next two weeks and followed the high levels of infection in five to 12-year-olds, who have the highest incidence of the virus, he added.

The Cabinet is expected to give the go-ahead to Nphet’s recommendation that mask wearing for children aged nine and over be mandated on public transport and in shops.

It also said primary school children should wear face masks from third class up.

In his letter to Mr Donnelly, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said schools and childcare facilities needed to continue to operate.

“We are currently experiencing very high incidence in children aged five to 12 years of age, and as such, it is important to take steps to interrupt chains of transmission to protect those core priorities,” he said.

It comes as some parents of primary pupils may not send them to school if they have to wear a mask, according to the National Parents’ Council Primary (NPC). The council has received more calls on this than any other issue, with at least 1,300 logged by mid-afternoon yesterday, according to NPC CEO Áine Lynch.

“No-one rang to say they were happy; they were all saying they were very upset, very concerned,” said Ms Lynch.

Ms Lynch said a recommendation or advice on mask wearing for children was one thing “but a situation that takes choice away from parents would be a problem”.

She said they would “hate to see that, after working so long to keep schools open, something would happen that would create a situation where parents would feel that they didn’t want to send their children to school”.

It comes as another 4,620 new cases of the virus were reported yesterday.

There were 571 Covid-19 patients in hospital, of whom 118 were in intensive care.

In his letter following the Nphet meeting, Dr Holohan said Ireland remains vulnerable to a further deterioration in the disease profile depending on a number of factors, including levels of social contact in the coming weeks and over the festive period, adherence to basic public health protective measures and levels of immunity across the population.

He said that deaths per day were increasing very slowly at roughly seven, or 200 deaths per month.

“This may increase, given the very high case counts, though booster vaccination in older persons may mitigate against this,” he said.

“There continues to be a significant number of outbreaks reported in settings with vulnerable populations.”


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