A high proportion of the population will need a Covid-19 booster shot over the coming months and next year, the Cabinet has been told.
Ministers were also told that vaccines should be given to those under 16.
The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly received Government approval for a purchase agreement for 1.8m doses of the Moderna vaccine for use in 2022. He also received approval to exercise an option for an additional 1.1m doses of the Jansen vaccine for delivery next year.
The Cabinet was told on Tuesday that significant progress had been made in the vaccination campaign but that scientific advice indicates that variants will continue to evolve. Vaccine immunity is not indefinite, the Cabinet was told, and vaccinations should be extended to people under 16 years of age.
Ministers were told that it is considered likely that booster shots will be needed “for a very high proportion of the population over the comings months and next year.”
At the end of June 2021, Ireland will have received 5.3m doses of the four vaccines approved so far. The country is contracted to receive up to another 11.2m doses between July and the end of the year.
This includes the new vaccine Curevac if it is approved by the European Medicines Agency. A recent purchase agreement with Pfizer will see 4.9m doses per annum next year and the year after.
Cabinet was also told that the roll-out of second AstraZeneca doses will be complete by mid to late July. In relation to the Delta variant, a Government spokesman said it was a concern in both Ireland and across the EU.
Earlier Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there are no plans to delay further reopening planned from July 5th despite the rapid rise in Delta variant cases in the Republic.
Mr Martin was speaking after the weekly Cabinet meeting where Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly briefed colleagues about the sharp increase in the Delta variant, which now accounts for 20 per cent of all new cases in the past week.
Mr Donnelly is understood to have expressed concern to colleagues over the number of Delta variant cases in Derry, especially among the 18-24 age group, and its potential to spread into Donegal.
He also said measures were now being taken to contain the outbreak in Athlone, including a move to encourage people to avail of free PCR tests.
However, Ministers present described the presentation as short and the prevailing attitude as “wait and see”.
“I don’t get the sense there is major concern but more a sense of careful monitoring,” said one Minister present.
For his part, Mr Martin said to reporters after Cabinet that “we have to be very vigilant and people have to be vigilant in their personal behaviour. The vaccination programme is key.”
, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the rise in Delta variant cases was a cause of concern but there is “no reason to panic at this stage”.
Ministers said the key presentation would be from Nphet next week, ahead of the final decision to proceed with further reopening - including indoor dining and drinking - on July 5th.
Mr Varadkar said the more transmissible Delta variant was set to become the dominant strain of Covid in Ireland in the coming weeks.
However, he said the Government’s plans to further ease restrictions remained on track.
“We will not make a final decision on that until next Thursday (July 1st) when we have seen more data and have the most up-to-date advice from Nphet,” he said.
“It’s important to understand that the Delta variant will become dominant in Ireland. That’s how the virus works. As the number of Delta variants increases the number of other variants will go down.
“What we want to see are the figures for the total number of cases and whether that impacts on hospitals in any way.
“In the UK it has been the dominant variant there for weeks and weeks now. Notwithstanding that, they have managed to keep indoor dining open, but they are now experiencing a small increase in hospitalisations.”
Referencing the outbreak in Athlone – where 14 cases of Delta variant have been confirmed following social events – Mr Varadkar said it was very important for people to take up the offer of a free PCR test.
In relation to the potential next phase of reopening due to happen from July 5th onwards, set to include indoor dining, a spokesman said the Government has been careful and cautious to date when making decisions.
He said the Government has always waited until the last minute before making a decision so that the most up to date range of data is available.
When asked if the Government would go against advice from the State’s public health team, if the Nphet recommends that the reopening should not go ahead, the spokesman said any advice will be taken seriously. He said that by and large the Government strategy has been in tune with Nphet but there are always other considerations. “We will take that advice when we get it.”
The new variant is considered to be over 50 per cent more transmissible than the UK variant. In addition, those who have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine are not protected fully. The first dose of AstraZeneca is only 33 per cent effective against Delta, while the second makes it over 60 per cent effective.
Research published by Public Health England found that the second dose of AstraZeneca is 92 per cent effective against the Delta variant in terms of hospitalisation and serious illness.
The sharp rise in Delta variant cases has prompted some health professionals to express concern about easing of restrictions on July 5th.
On RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Mary Favier, Nphet member and former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said there was a need to be cautious as it was important to avoid a situation where hospitals were again being “over run”.
Dr Favier also urged people to turn up for their vaccination appointments as “a substantial number” of people did not attend appointments. They should “turn down” doing anything else and get the vaccine, she said.
Deferring the easing of restrictions on indoor facilities for two to three weeks “could make all the difference” she added.
On the same programme Prof Aoife McLysaght of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group, said Ireland had an opportunity to heed the warnings of what had happened in the UK where the relaxing of restrictions had been deferred due to a surge in Delta variant cases.
Reopening the indoor hospitality sector at this stage was “going to be a disaster”, she warned.