A Trinity College immunologist has urged people to continue exercising caution as Ireland reopens on a phased basis this summer.
Professor Cliona O’Farrelly said that while the easing of restrictions was good news, the COVID-19 virus and variants still pose a threat and people need to be careful until the population is vaccinated.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced a raft of restrictions that will be eased throughout June and July in an address to the nation last night.
He said the end of the coronavirus pandemic "is within our grasp" and that the country is almost back to a point of "enjoying ordinary moments" again.
The measures will begin to ease on June 2nd, when hotels and B&Bs can reopen to guests.
June 7th will see outdoor dining back, with pubs and restaurants allowed to serve indoors from July 5th.
A range of trial events with crowds will be held through June, while international travel is set to return on July 19th.
The Taoiseach added that he still has concerns about the impact of the so-called 'Indian variant' of COVID-19 on plans for reopening the country.
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh, Cliona O’Farrelly, Professor of Comparative Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, said it is important that people get vaccinated as soon as possible.
It is expected that by the end of July, 2.5 million will be vaccinated or fully vaccinated against the virus in Ireland, with the initial target of 82% of the population being inoculated by the end of June unlikely because of supply issues.
Professor O’Farrelly questioned whether 2.5 million people being vaccinated was enough given the significant reopening of society in the coming months.
"We really shouldn't be taking our eye off the ball, there's still a lot of the virus around with the new variants coming," she said.
"We can't get vaccinated quickly enough, and we need to be very careful about gathering in groups.
"There will inevitably be problems with supply, just because it's so difficult to produce a constant source of safe vaccines, that's a challenging task."
She is hopeful that NIAC will issue advice soon on the immunisation of young people following the approval by the European Medicines Agency of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15.
"The other good news was we can use Pfizer for young people and for children, counterbalancing the bad news, there's good news coming as well," Professor O’Farrelly said.
"I suspect that young people and children are probably a reservoir of the virus because many of them don't get sick and making sure they're vaccinated so they don't carry the virus will be very important."
Vaccine targets 'ambitious'
However, she stated that the Government's vaccine targets are "hugely ambitious" and that people need to maintain caution regarding socialising and gathering with others, particularly given the threat posed by the Indian variant.
"We don't quite know how much of that variant is in the population," she explained.
"One jab is very protective against all the variants and you can see that already it's bringing down the cases and the deaths and the illness which was the most important thing to consider.
"To be sure that we're all protected against the more infectious variant, we need the double jab.
"It is hugely ambitious to try and get everyone completely vaccinated by September and that's precisely why I think we should be cautious about gatherings."