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Jabs for the kids Children aged 5 to 11 could be vaccinated against Covid-19, Taoiseach says

Mr Martin’s comments, made at the end of his five-day trip to New York, came after Pfizer-BioNTech reported its Covid vaccine was shown to be safe and highly effective in children between the ages of five and 11.

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week. Picture by Peter Foley/Reuters

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week. Picture by Peter Foley/Reuters

Taoiseach Micheál Martin addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week. Picture by Peter Foley/Reuters

Micheál Martin has signalled that the State will move to vaccinate children between the ages of five and 11 against Covid-19 if advised to do so after Pfizer said its jab was safe and highly effective in clinical trials.

The Taoiseach said he has “no issue with the principle” of vaccinating children as young as five, but said he would be bound by public-health guidance, which would weigh the benefits to children of receiving a vaccine dose versus the risks.

Mr Martin’s comments, made at the end of his five-day trip to New York, came after Pfizer-BioNTech reported its Covid vaccine was shown to be safe and highly effective in children between the ages of five and 11.

This paves the way for its likely rollout in the US to children in that age cohort later this year.

A similar roll-out in Ireland would likely require in the first instance the approval of the European Medicines Agency then consideration by the National Immunisation Advisory Council (NIAC) and Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan.

“I have no issue with the principle of that,” Mr Martin said in New York on Friday when asked about the possibility of vaccinating children as young as five.

“But I would be bound by public health guidance in respect of it, because public health will have to weigh up the benefits for the child in respect of receiving the vaccine as opposed to the risks to the child.

“So that will be a public-health and clinical issue that would be assessed in the first instance by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and by the public health officials, particularly the chief medical officer.”

Mr Martin pointed out that an immunisation programme for children in Ireland against other diseases already exists, and extolled the benefits of vaccines in terms of eradicating serious illness and disease.

“We vaccinate children in a whole range of other areas, so I’m of the view — in terms of the advance of humankind — that vaccines overall have been extremely effective historically in dealing with many, many viruses, but it remains to be seen in terms of the risk assessment,” he said.

During his US trip, Mr Martin met New York Governor Kathy Hochul, chaired a meeting of the UN Security Council, addressed its General Assembly and met representatives of the Irish-American community.

He frequently raised Ireland’s high vaccination rate — more than 90pc of the population over 16 have received a jab — and said Americans were impressed by Ireland’s uptake.

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“That puts us in a different context,” he said. “In many parts of the United States they are at 50pc in some states, even less in others — and then we have to be conscious that Africa is at very low single-digit numbers. It’s 1pc, 2pc, 3pc in some countries in Africa.

“There is a point in time when we’ve got to say the vaccines need to be used elsewhere. All frontline healthcare workers, for example, in less-developed regions should now get priority, and we have to really up the level of vaccination in less-developed regions.”

The HSE will this week begin notifying people who are immuno-compromised and deemed at high risk from Covid-19 of an appointment for a third dose of the vaccine.

The expectation of a vaccine for primary pupils comes as a new report shows the level of Covid infection in the five to 12 age group increased in the first two weeks of this month.

Published last week by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), the report found the rate of infection in this age group stood at 266.3 per 100,000 in the week of August 29 to September 4. However, the rate increased to 402.6 per 100,000 in the week of September 12 to 18.

The increase has been linked to the re-opening of primary schools.

“Similar increases were observed in this age group when primary schools re-opened in September 2020 and in February/March 2021, and may reflect increased testing of mildly symptomatic and asymptomatic children,” the report said.

In the week to September 18, a total of 2,209 in the five to 12 age group contracted Covid, accounting for almost a quarter of all cases. This compared with 886 children in the 13 to 18 age group, which is eligible for vaccines.

The new figures show that 29,700 children in Ireland between the ages of five to 12 contracted Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic last year to September 18.

Children of primary school age accounted for almost 8pc of all cases during this period.

A total of 14,875 children under the age of four contracted the virus during the same period.

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