A wider rollout of vaccine booster shots will be a “very important part” of the COVID response moving forward, according to the Taoiseach.
Micheál Martin was speaking amid fears next week’s reopening could be affected by the recent rise in COVID cases and hospitalisations.
A further 1,914 cases were announced today – and almost 20,000 have been announced in the past two weeks.
The number of patients in hospital has also increased; however, the intensive care figures have remained fairly stable.
Speaking in Cork this evening, the Taoiseach said the figures are a “cause of concern” but insisted Government would not be “pressing the panic button”.
He said no decision on next Friday’s reopening would be made until the National Public Health Emergency Team had made its recommendations – which are due on Monday.
One measure he did suggest could be extended is the use of vaccine certs for pubs and restaurants.
“There is not a whole lot left to reopen,” he said. “I think behaviour is a factor and I think we will be looking at vaccination certs for example – the COVID certs that have been used so far in terms of access to hospitality.
“There are a variety of options we can look at and that is what we are going to do but I don’t want to speculate unduly because I think it is better we make a comprehensive decision on foot of the advice we get next week in relation to that.”
Mr Martin also said he expects vaccine boosters to be rolled out to the wider population – despite the World Health Organisation’s plea for countries not to do so until the vulnerable in poorer countries are protected.
Ireland is currently administering third shots to people with compromised immune systems and booster shots to people over-80 and people over-65 living in residential care.
Mr Martin said the Health Minister has already written to the National Immunisation Advisory Committee about a wider rollout.
“I know NIAC are considering expanding the booster programme which is important in the overall battle against COVID-19,” he said. “Because the vaccines have been shown to work
“It is underway already in terms of over-80s and over-65s in residential care home and NIAC are giving consideration now to the further expansion of the booster programme – that is a very important part of this.”
He said the EU bought up to 900 million doses for the next two years in expectation of the need for booster campaigns.
“I anticipate the expansion of the booster programme,” he said.
“NIAC are considering this. They are collating the evidence and they will make recommendations to Government and the HSE in respect of any further decision to expand.
“The EU had a view that they needed to pre-purchase vaccines for the next two years in terms of the administration of booster vaccines. There may very well come a time over the next period where a COVID booster vaccine will be a bit like a flu vaccine.”
Earlier this month, DCU Immunology Professor Christine Loscher told Newstalk there was no real evidence supporting the need for a population wide COVID vaccine booster campaign.
The charity Trócaire has said reland should not expand its vaccine booster programme any further until vulnerable people in the developing world are protected.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has made a direct appeal to Ireland not to give COVID 'booster' shots to the general population.