Covid Delta variant surge ‘on way’ — while booster shots for elderly ‘possible’
Vaccination of children as young as 12 against Covid-19 could begin as early as next month.
It comes as the State races to beat an expected surge in the Delta variant in the coming weeks as the return of schools in late August approaches.
The HSE’s Schools Immunisation Programme is expected to be used alongside the existing Covid-19 vaccination infrastructure to begin vaccinating children as soon as clinical advice allows.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has asked his Department and the HSE to draw up options for the autumn and winter vaccinations programme.
These “will include the flu vaccination programme, ongoing Covid vaccinations and school vaccinations and to consider how the new vaccine infrastructure we have could be used to help with what is going to be a very, very significant amount of new work,” he said.
This will include the possibility of administering booster shots to the elderly who were the earliest recipients of the vaccine.
Separately, a senior Government source this weekend said if the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) “advise on kids being vaccinated the school vaccination programme will be utilised. The HSE is on top of all scenarios”.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent understands An Garda Síochána will not play a role in enforcing the planned domestic Covid pass.
Likely to be a barcode, or so-called QR code, on a person’s mobile phone, this would allow the vaccinated, those who have had Covid-19 and, potentially, those who test negative, to enjoy indoor hospitality and other activities from July 19.
“The general view across government is that the guards aren’t going to be calling into pubs and restaurants looking for a QR code,” a well-placed source said.
A second source, who is a senior figure within Government said: “We are not North Korea.”
The HSE is considering vaccinating school children as soon as August to beat an expected surge of the Delta variant.
A senior health source said 12 to 15-year-olds will likely be vaccinated “sooner rather than later” if the measure is approved by Niac.
“It is not part of the current operational plan but it is true to say we are planning for it,” said a senior source, saying his guess is it would have to happen “sooner rather than later.”
The source said no concrete plans will be made without the approval of Niac, which is expected to issue a decision imminently.
The immediate focus is on vaccinating all eligible adults by early to mid-August, the source said. More than 300,000 vaccines are expected to be administered in the coming week, including to those aged 18 to 24.
An estimated 200,000 of 450,000 people waiting for their second dose of AstraZeneca are expected to receive it by July 19.
The acceleration of the vaccination programme will mean over-18s can access the one-shot Janssen jab from pharmacies subject to availability from tomorrow.
It comes amid growing fears among some in Government that the EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) may not be ready in time for July 19 when international travel is expected to resume.
The Cabinet was warned last week of challenges across several areas that form part of a passenger’s journey.
These include the quality of data, the verification process and what role airlines will play, the expected changes to the online passenger locator form and the rollout of an ‘integrated citizen interface’.
Overall governance and oversight, data protection and legislative requirements will require careful consideration, a briefing states.
The delivery of the DCC will involve technological developments so the State’s computers can talk to those used by private companies offering Covid-19 tests.
There will be an app to verify QR codes given to travellers who want to fly abroad. A call centre will be set up for prospective air passengers who have queries.
Ministers have been told a “minimal viable product” is being developed with a view to issuing further versions of the DCC over time.
“Given the time it will take to create, test and stand up these new operations including technological developments, and the short time available between now and July 19, the challenges involved should not be underestimated,” the briefing states.
“There are enough caveats around it that it would make me concerned,” said a minister this weekend.
In Cork yesterday, Micheál Martin urged the public to be vigilant and focus on “personal responsibilities” ahead of the next wave of Covid-19 infections.
A spike in cases driven by the Delta variant is projected for August but the Taoiseach believes this wave will be different from past ones.
“People are tired of the pandemic, that I understand,” he said.
“But if we all refocus in terms of our own personal responsibilities and personal behaviours, we can go a long way to mitigate the impact of of the Delta variant while we roll out the vaccination programme and try to maintain what we’ve already achieved so far this year.
“But the volume of cases worries me in terms of what we’re hearing from the United Kingdom, in terms of the number of cases that can occur in the unvaccinated population, and the degree to which that high volume of cases could penetrate the wall that the vaccine gives us.”
The Taoiseach said it remained to be seen how severe the impact of the Delta wave would be.
“The interesting issue will be the link between volume of cases and hospitalisation,” he said.
“It will take more time to establish with precision what that will be. We are concerned about it, and I’m concerned about it.
“But, that said, we have significant numbers of the population vaccinated; we’re going to really accelerate that in the coming month.”
He also confirmed that Ireland has approached other European countries for excess vaccines, after agreeing a deal in principle for one million unwanted jabs from Romania.
There have been an additional 448 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, according to figures from the Department of Health.
There were 42 patients in hospitals with the disease, of whom 14 were intensive care units.