The prospect of a mass vaccination programme for children in Ireland has been raised, after a HSE official suggested nine out of 10 people will need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity against Covid-19.
Dr Colm Henry, the HSE’s chief clinical officer, said the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) would have to weigh up the benefits of inoculation of children against any potential threat to them from the vaccine itself, according to The Irish Times.
Dr Henry said it had previously been estimated that vaccinating just six in 10 of the population could provide wider protection for society against the coronavirus.
However, the arrival of the “more transmissible” Delta variant meant “to reach that concept of herd immunity, which every country is far away from yet, the estimate has gone up to 85-90 per cent”.
If Ireland were to reach herd immunity through vaccination alone, Dr Henry said “by extension it would include the population [to be vaccinated] extending to children”.
16+ from early August
Dr Henry said a balance would need to be considered between “what is a very low risk” to children from being infected by the virus “against any risks the vaccine may have in younger age groups”.
Niac is currently considering if the vaccine rollout can be extended to 12-15 year olds with the Pfizer vaccine, already approved for the cohort by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and the Government is awaiting Niac's advice.
A Government source did not dismiss the estimated threshold for herd immunity outlined by Dr Henry but said that what was “most urgent” was opening up the vaccines for 16-17 year olds as this was already agreed.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said on Thursday he expected the Covid-19 vaccine portal would open for 16-17 year olds from early August.
Mr Harris said being vaccinated against the virus was not a requirement to go to third-level education in September but he would encourage students to receive the vaccine.
In the UK, it has been decided to only offer children over 12 a vaccine if they are at higher risk through underlying conditions or if they are living with someone who is at higher risk of serious illness through infection.
Authorities in the US have recommended children over the age of 12 be vaccinated, and steps are already being taken to give children under 12 jabs by mid-winter.