Professor Luke O'Neill says a recent study from Israel shows children may not need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19 in the community.
The Trinity Immunologist says the topic of vaccinating children is likely to become a big topic of debate as more and more adults get vaccinated.
Several vaccine manufacturers are carrying out trials to see how effective their jabs are in protecting younger people.
Meanwhile, a recent study led by Tel Aviv's Maccabi Healthcare Services looked at over 200 Israeli communities to see the impact of the country's mass vaccination campaign.
It found that as more adults are vaccinated, unvaccinated children in the community were less likely to test positive.
Professor O'Neill has previously suggested achieving herd immunity in the community would require vaccinating children as well as adults.
However, he told The Pat Kenny Show today that the new research from Israel means that may not be the case.
He said: "It means we may not need to vaccinate children. That’s going to become a big issue in the coming weeks and months.
“There’s a case not to vaccinate them as they don’t become very sick, you see. The only reason to vaccinate them would be to get to herd immunity. If you can achieve that in the adult population, then that definitely doesn’t justify vaccinating children.”
Professor O'Neill said that if a “single child” shows any ill effect from the vaccine in trials, then children won’t be vaccinated more widely as it would be unethical.
He explained: “Other vaccines we give to children are to protect them against disease - when you give someone a measles vaccine and so on.
"With this disease, it doesn’t really affect children. It’s going to be a very interesting debate.
"There will be a press for it because of herd immunity - but that Maccabi study suggests you can achieve herd immunity without vaccinating the children."
However, he said children in high-risk groups could still be vaccinated to protect them against the virus.
Vaccines and variants
The Trinity immunologist also highlighted some positive findings from recent US studies about the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine in protecting against COVID-19 variants.
He explained: “A healthcare worker was infected and went into a nursing home - a care home. 90% of people in that care home had been vaccinated. The question was would that person start infecting people who’d been vaccinated.
“Luckily, many were protected - 86% protection in the care home. Some did get infected, and that can happen. The ones that were infected all had a variant - the R1.
“The great news is that none progressed into severity."
He said this is the evidence scientists have been waiting for - showing the vaccine could protect against emerging variants.
It means that while people might still get infected post-vaccination, it won't progress to a more severe illness.
He added: “A second study in the US by the Rockefeller University [looked at] two people who got infected post-vaccination.
"Again it was a variant, and they didn’t develop severe disease.”