Government sources in Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have hit back at Mr Donnelly’s suggestion
A majority of respondents to an Independent.ie poll have said they do not think under-30s should be vaccinated before people aged between 30 and 50.
This comes after Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said Department of Health officials were examining the possibility of vaccinating under-30s first over fears they’re more mobile and could spread the disease quicker than 30-50 year-olds once society reopens.
From 3,500 respondents, 68pc responded to the independent.ie poll, saying they would not prefer to see under-30s vaccinated ahead of the 30-50 group. Twenty-eight percent said they would prefer to see the younger cohort vaccinated first, while 4pc said they were not sure.
The 18-24 age group has often experienced the highest incidence of the virus of any group, with many outbreaks in third-level settings seen earlier in the year.
“I’ve asked the department to assess the case for vaccinating younger cohorts earlier, on the basis of reducing overall transmission as quickly as possible,” Mr Donnelly told The Irish Times.
A spokesperson for Minister Donnelly told Independent.ie today that considerations such as this one were “constantly being reviewed to ensure the vaccination programme is as effective as possible, just like with dose intervals, distribution channels and so forth”.
He said that any change to the current vaccination rollout “would require a government decision” and said: “no such memo is currently being prepared”.
However, a spokesperson for the Government later emphasised that the State's vaccination priority list has not changed.
A spokesman for the Government said: "There is no change to the official Government policy on the vaccine priority list to focus on people aged 18-30."
The head of the HSE said the health service was focusing on its current plan and vaccinating older and medically vulnerable cohorts.
"From next Monday we'll start administering the vaccine to the 65 to 69-year-olds," Paul Reid told RTE News.
"From this morning we have over 66,000 registered on the online registration system.
The vaccination rollout has been altered 25 times to date due to supply issues and changes in advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).
Just two weeks ago the Government announced it would move to a programme solely based on age, and deprioritised certain professions such as teachers and Gardaí.
However, Government sources in Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have hit back at Mr Donnelly’s suggestion that younger people should be moved up the vaccination list.
A Fianna Fáil source said the Government’s policy was “unchanged” while a senior Fine Gael figure said Mr Donnelly’s comments were the first “anyone across government” had heard of the proposal.
On Twitter, the minister’s Fianna Fáil colleague, Clare Senator Timmy Dooley said the proposal is a “crazy idea that shouldn’t even be considered”. “Roll out the vaccine by age as we have been advised by the science,” Mr Dooley added.
And a leading consultant microbiologist has said she doesn't "see the evidence to support" the proposals to vaccinate under 30s.
Dr Fidelma Fitzpatrick, a senior lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, believes there is “much more evidence” to continue with NIAC’s immunisation strategy to vaccinate older people first, as these are far more likely to end up in “hospital, in ICU or dying”.
Dr Fitzpatrick said she was “surprised when I read the headline” as in terms of harmreduction, when people get older their risk associated with catching Covid-19 increases due to comorbidities and that there is a trend toward worse outcomes as people get older.
The proposed plans being examined by the Department of Health “assumes people over 30 don’t socialise” if the rationale for vaccinating younger people is that they are more mobile and mix more with others, Dr Fitzpatrick said.
Government is to set out a reopening roadmap for May and June in the next two weeks, with a gradual reopening of more outdoor amenities, personal services and non-essential retail expected in May and June.
All of this is based on vaccination numbers, variants, hospitalisations and case numbers, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said earlier this week.
“We’ll sit down in a few weeks and lay out a plan for May and what we’re planning is to allow more activities, a phased reopening of retail and personal services.
“I’m not saying May 4, but over the course of May, there will be a phased reopening of personal services including hairdressers and barbers,” the Tánaiste said this week.
The move to vaccinate younger age groups before people between the age of 30-50 would be similar to a plan set out by Denmark, which is using a ‘pincer-type’ system.
In Denmark, once the over 50s are vaccinated, people aged 16 and 50 are then vaccinated simultaneously, before 17 and 49-year-olds, gradually moving towards people in their mid-30s, finishing on 34-year-olds to finish the programme.