‘No way’ to end cycle of transmission without vaccinating children

‘Really good idea’ to inoculate students, says expert, as Covid-19 spreads among teenagers

The “cycle of transmission” of Covid-19 and variants will not be broken until children as well as adults are vaccinated, leading experts warn.

The ambition to do so however will be limited by factors including vaccine supply, the need to prioritise boosters among older people and the need to share supply with developing countries.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said on Sunday the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) was examining whether to recommend vaccination of 12- to 15-year-olds. Speaking on RTÉ radio he said the committee had not "come to any conclusion".

Mr Reid was responding to a Sunday Independent report that Niac would recommend 12- to 15-year-olds be vaccinated before schools reopen next month.


Prof Aoife McLysaght, of the Institute of Genetics at Trinity College, Dublin, said it was a “really good idea” to vaccinate students and secondary-school children.

“They have had two years of disrupted education . . . it’s really important we get a solid year in. If you look at university those on a three-year course have already had two years disrupted. In secondary school someone going into third year has never had a full year in secondary school . . . and there are some vulnerable children who have not gone in at all since March last year.”

Noting children and young people accounted for 20-25 per cent of the population she said: “The more people who are vaccinated the better chance we have of achieving population-wide herd immunity”.

Prof Kingston Mills, director of Trinity College's Biomedical Sciences Institute, said vaccinating children "makes complete sense.

“If you look at the numbers of cases in children . . . it is among 12- to 18-year-olds that the virus is circulating now.”

However, he cautioned: “It very much depends on vaccine availability. We need to vaccinate two doses to every adult in the country first, and then we go to the 18-year-olds and under.”

A further issue potentially delaying rollout among adolescents would be the potential need for booster shots in coming months, especially among the 600,000 to 700,000 older people who have had one dose of AstraZeneca.

“There is very strong evidence that even two doses of that vaccine do not provide strong protection against the Delta variant. They will need to be boosted with an mRNA vaccine . . . So you have to weigh whether that’s more important than vaccinating children. Because it’s such a mild disease in children people may say, ‘Vaccinate the adults first’.”

Echoing Prof McLysaght he said there was “no way” we would “break the cycle of transmission” if children were not vaccinated. “While they themselves may not end up in hospital they can have symptomatic or asymptomatic infection and bring it home to an adult who is not fully vaccinated or has been vaccinated with a vaccine that doesn’t fully protect them.”

Prof Sam McConkey of the Department of International Health at the Royal College of Surgeons said while he felt developing countries should "have some dibs" on vaccines ahead of children in wealthier countries, he agreed "the children of Ireland would be better off if they were vaccinated".

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times