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Decision on Covid vaccine for children over five within next month, Taoiseach says

- Antigen testing and and booster campaign to play important role in controlling virus, Micheál Martin says

-However, he again rules out new lockdowns

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Micheál Martin

Micheál Martin

Micheál Martin

TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has said Ireland will make a decision on the potential vaccination of children aged over five years against Covid-19 within the next month.

Mr Martin revealed that antigen testing, an accelerated booster vaccine campaign and the potential vaccination of children aged over five years will likely play a crucial role in defeating the Covid-19 surge before Christmas.

But he warned that further lockdowns will not form any part of Covid-19 controls between Halloween and Christmas - and he ruled out widespread contact tracing for children.

He again urged people to follow Covid-19 guidelines and to stick rigidly to social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing protocols

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The Taoiseach - speaking in Clonmel as he opened a new 40 bed modular unit at Tipperary University Hospital (TUH) - also stressed that Ireland's provision of extra acute hospital capacity and intensive care unit beds will be vital over coming months.

"I spoke to the chief medical officer just an hour ago. There is no return to widespread contact tracing for children because we do not want children out of school for ten days unnecessarily," he said.

"But the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) advice which has arrived in recent days is such that there may be selective situations where it might pilot the use of antigen (testing) in selected situations.

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"But it will not be on a widespread basis as yet."

"The real issue is not Covid-19 overall for children's health - the real issue is other respiratory illnesses. The same advice applies - Covid-19 is spread in the community more than it is in schools and that basically schools have remained safe places for children,” Mr Martin added.

"We have to keep it in perspective and that is the key message I received from the CMO today."

Mr Martin said antigen testing may play a greater role in Ireland's fight against Covid-19 in future.

"Today is a significant day in antigen testing because the Health Service Executive are issuing antigen tests to asymptomatic close contacts,” he said.

"It is a big expansion of the utilisation of antigen testing and I think the use of antigen testing in the community will also be developed.

"The administration of the booster vaccine is expanding beyond the over 80s and has gone to the over 60s and those with health vulnerabilities."

"NIAC are giving very active consideration to healthcare workers and the administration of the booster vaccine there.

"That is a decision NIAC will take but they are very actively considering it right now."

"Also the Food and Drug Administration (FDA in US) have approved the use of vaccines for children aged between five and 12 years."

"I understand that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will now give that consideration and then, when the EMA have given it consideration, NIAC and our authorities will give it consideration too."

"But that is some weeks away - probably a month away before the (Irish) authorities are in a position to make an assessment in respect of vaccines for children."

Mr Martin said the Government was expanding Ireland's acute hospital bed and intensive care unit bed capacity as quickly as possible given the lessons learned from the pandemic.

The Taoiseach argued that the expansion of TUH was proof of what was being accomplished within the healthcare sector.

"This represents a critical development for both patients and for staff and it is part of a wider provision of an additional 1,000 (hospital) beds within the system."

"It is the largest ever increase in the number of beds in the Irish hospital system."

"We are now at 301 intensive care unit beds and that will reach 321 in early 2022 and more again by the end of 2023."

"The hospital capacity increase is ongoing."

"I went through the paediatric ward (at TUH) today and it is important we have a sense of perspective about the whole issue of children and Covid-19."

"The biggest issue so far with children is respiratory illnesses and not Covid-19, particularly in terms of children getting sick - it is more respiratory illnesses."

"Very, very few children are admitted with Covid-19 - but quite a few are admitted with other respiratory illnesses so that has to be the context in which people are talking about schools."



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