People in their 50s may get Covid-19 vaccine booster earlier than planned

New advice to schools on mask wearing for children to be issued on Monday

The booster jabs are expected to be administered initially by appointment only at vaccination centres for people who have had their second vaccine dose at least five months earlier. Photograph: Joseph Prezioso /AFP via Getty Images

The booster jabs are expected to be administered initially by appointment only at vaccination centres for people who have had their second vaccine dose at least five months earlier. Photograph: Joseph Prezioso /AFP via Getty Images

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Almost 400,000 people in their 50s will learn this week when they can receive Covid-19 vaccine boosters as the Health Service Executive makes final preparations to extend third doses to this age group.

The booster jabs are expected to be administered initially by appointment only at vaccination centres for people who have had their second vaccine dose at least five months earlier.

They will later be made more widely available through walk-in clinics for people in their 50s, following a similar arrangement for those in their 60s.

Mid-December was flagged as the start date for boosters for people aged 50 and over but the HSE’s lead for vaccinations, Damien McCallion, raised the possibility of an earlier start date.

“We expect to announce a date for those in the next week. We had said it will be around the middle of December and we will certainly hold to that, if not earlier,” he said.

Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland
12,143,670 10,222,511

The HSE is awaiting guidance from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) on the rollout of first vaccine doses to children aged between five and 11. It also awaits NIAC’s recommendations on whether the HSE should prioritise vaccines for children before moving on to booster doses for younger adult age groups, such as people in their 40s. NIAC is due to hold a meeting this evening.

Taoiseach’s defence

Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Sunday defended the Government’s handling of the pandemic, saying: “Ireland has seen fewer cases and fewer deaths than most comparable countries.” In a speech delivered in Ennis, Co Clare, he also said the Government has “run one of the world’s most effective vaccination programmes, which is now tackling the challenge of distributing booster shots”.

Mr Martin also insisted members of the National Public Health Emergency team (Nphet) had not been “gagged” by the Government’s decision to route all Covid communications through the Government Information Service (GIS).

However, journalists from The Irish Times and other media outlets who contacted GIS and requested to speak to Nphet members were told they were “unavailable”, even though members had previously indicated their willingness to be interviewed if GIS consented.

New advice to schools to be issued this morning has stressed children from third class up should not be excluded from schools “in the first instance” for not wearing masks. Instead, the school should engage with the parents and, if no progress is made, contact an inspector from the Department of Education. The new guidance says when a school agrees with parents that a mask is not appropriate for a child, no medical certification is needed for an exemption.

A further 5,156 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded on Sunday, while the number of hospital patients went back over 500, rising 16 to 503, of whom 110 are in in intensive care.

Meanwhile, the Government plans to reopen the pandemic unemployment payment scheme at the top rate of €350 to nightclub workers and others who will lose their jobs this week as a result of reintroduced restrictions for the hospitality and live entertainment sector, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe confirmed.

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