Separately, Stephen Donnelly has authorised a first vaccine for infants and children aged six months to four years
People in this age category who do not have special health issues last received a vaccination up to 12 months ago, via a first booster injection. The move is particularly aimed at carers and those who live with people who have health vulnerabilities.
Separately, the health minister has authorised a first vaccine for infants and children aged six months to four years, while children aged five to 11 can get a first booster vaccine.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has reported there were 737 confirmed cases of people in hospital with Covid-19 yesterday and 35 of these were in intensive care.
Pressure on hospitals and other sectors of the health service, is compounded by a spike in flu cases and a significant increase in cases of other respiratory infections.
The HSE has set up a national crisis management team to oversee the response to the surge in winter virus infections. The spike in infections is expected to bring increasing pressure on health services well into the new year.
Doctors’ organisation, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said there had been a significant surge in demand for GP care due to the prevalence of influenza, Covid-19 and other respiratory complaints.
It comes as the US yesterday said it would require anyone arriving from China to have a negative Covid test, after an explosion of Covid cases in China when it lifted its ‘zero-Covid’ policy.
Some 37 million people in China may have been infected in just one day last week, while half of the passengers on one flight from China to Milan tested positive.
Officials last night said the HSE will now have to put in place a major vaccination programme for the 18-49 age-group. Vaccines will be distributed through vaccination centres, while participating pharmacies and GPs are also likely to be used.
Mr Donnelly’s decision follows advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, which has also been accepted by the chief medical officer.
One source said the expert advice was that “a permissive approach” would be best for this age group of healthy people aged 18 to 49.
This, in practice, means they may choose to receive the booster vaccine, or not, as they wish.
People who want to get the latest booster will need to have left a six-month gap since their last jab, or from the last time they had Covid.
Anyone working as a carer, or living with someone who is immuno-compromised, will be strongly advised to get inoculated.
The minister now expects the HSE will roll out the extended vaccination programmes over coming weeks.
Third booster vaccine doses are currently offered to people aged 65 and older, and for people aged 12 and older with a weak immune system.
Second boosters are on offer for people over 50 years of age. Anyone aged 12 or older, who has a condition deemed Covid high-risk, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, also qualifies for a second booster.
Similarly, women who are over 16 weeks’ pregnant qualify for a vaccine booster, as do healthcare workers and people aged 12 or older living in a long-term care facility.
A first booster is available for all people aged 12 and older, as well as five- to 11-year-olds with a weak immune system.
The IMO has also announced temporary supports as GPs face growing demand and the health service comes under intense pressure.
The HSE has written to GPs acknowledging the pressures upon them and increased workloads.
It has conceded that this will continue for doctors and acute hospitals for several weeks.
The HSE is offering increased supports and grants to help doctors extend existing clinics or run extra ones.
However, it acknowledged that not all practices will be in a position to do this.