Vaccinating teenagers may be needed to prevent a further Covid-19 outbreak this winter, one expert has suggested.
At present Ireland's vaccination programme is only open to adults aged over 35 or who are medically vulnerable to Covid-19.
But Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of a UK government advisory group on viruses, said that offering the vaccines more widely to those over the age of 12 could be key to “interrupting” the spread of the virus.
He told Sky News: “I think it’s quite likely, unless we do something pretty radical by way of interrupting the spread of this virus, that we will have to extend vaccination into teenagers in order to prevent a further outbreak in this coming winter and the following spring.
“I think we do know that [vaccines] are very effective at inducing an antibody response and they are safe – that has to be balanced against the relatively low risk of disease.
“The risk of disease is not zero and of course there are descriptions increasingly emerging of teenagers getting infected and then getting prolonged effects of so-called long Covid.”
He added: “The immune responses [between adults and teenagers] are pretty comparable and there was one study which suggested that there are different immune responses in teenagers but actually there’s other studies which show that, between the ages of 12 and 18, you respond pretty well the same as an adult.
“And I think that it looks very much as if the way that we need to interrupt this outbreak is to extend vaccination into those age groups.”
The issue has been focus of intense debate.
Some academics have said it would be morally wrong to offer vaccinations to children, who are at relatively low risk of Covid-19, while vulnerable people in other countries are yet to receive their first dose of vaccine.
Others have said it is is important to offer the jabs to teenagers to stem the spread of infection and prevent further disruption to education.
The EU's medicines regulator, the European Medicines Agency, has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use among children aged 12 and over.
But officials in Ireland have not yet confirmed whether the vaccination programme will extend to children once the adult campaign is complete.