Children aged 12 to 15 are to be offered a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine in a bid to reduce infection rates among this age group.
The move follows a recommendation by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), which has been accepted by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
The go-ahead was given by Niac despite the lack of authorisation by the European Medicines Agency for boosters doses for this age group.
The EMA is currently assessing an application by Pfizer/BioNTech for use of its booster vaccine in adolescents from 12 years.
Because off-licence use is being allowed in Ireland, Mr Donnelly said special attention would be paid to the provision of support and guidance information as part of the informed consent process for children and young people and their parents. Seventy per cent of 12-15 year-olds are fully vaccinated.
Niac has said a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine should be given at an interval of six months or longer after completion of the primary vaccine series.
Where a child in the age group has been infected, the booster dose should be deferred for at least six months following the onset of infection, according to Niac.
Although the Omicron variant is less severe than previous variants, soaring cases since December has resulted in more people, including young people, being hospitalised.
According to Niac, 260 12-15 year-olds were hospitalised between December 19th and February 9th, when Omicron was dominant. Six of these were admitted to ICU; none died.
The rate at which children in this age group was hospitalised has increased from 1.8 per 100,000 in the first wave of the pandemic to 38.54 in the most recent, fifth wave. The rate of ICU admission in the fifth wave was 0.38 per 100,000.
Of the 20 admissions to ICU of young people aged under 18 between January 1st and February 16th, 17 were unvaccinated.
Children and adolescents who contract Covid-19 are also at risk of a rare but serious conditions known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome. There have been 15 such admissions to ICU among 10-15 year-olds between January 2020 to February 2022.
“In adults, a booster dose with an mRNA vaccine significantly improves protection against severe outcomes, symptomatic diseases and infection from the Omicron variant of Covid-19,” Mr Donnelly said.
“Niac have indicated that vaccine efficacy against symptomatic infection and hospitalisation was restored to 60-75 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively, two to four weeks after administration of a booster in the adult population.”
Mr Donnelly cited evidence from Israel’s booster programme showing a significant reduction in the confirmed rate of infection in those aged 12-15 following the booster dose compared with those of the same age who were vaccinated with the primary series five to six months earlier.
“The benefits of vaccination – the prevention of serious illness and death – are clear. However, the reduction in rate of infection is important as Ireland removes some of the last public health restrictions in place.”
The Minister said the Department of Health and the HSE will now work to operationalise the change. The provision of boosters to 12-15-year-olds is expected to begin soon, as vaccination centres are currently experiencing low levels of demand.
Another 3,473 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in the State, while a further 2,865 people have registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported in a statement on Monday afternoon.
It also confirmed that as of 8am on Monday, 634 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of whom 53 were in ICU.
As well as reporting these latest Covid figures, the Nphet statement also included new case figures for the weekend.
On Sunday, another 3,351 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported, while a further 2,574 positive antigen tests were recorded through the HSE portal.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, another 4,847 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported, while a further 3,076 positive antigen tests were recorded through the portal.
In Northern Ireland, four more people who had previously recently tested positive for Covid-19 have died, the North’s Department of Health said on Monday.
Another 2,235 confirmed cases of the virus were also notified in the North in its latest 24-hour reporting period. On Monday morning there were 443 Covid-19 patients in the North’s hospitals, 12 of whom were in intensive care.
A further Covid-19 booster vaccine is to be offered to all of those aged 75 and over in Northern Ireland. The North’s Department of Health said the additional jab will also be offered to anyone over the age of 12 who is immunosuppressed. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that those at a higher risk of infection receive the additional booster this spring. Additional reporting: PA