People under the age of 30 may get vaccinated earlier in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus ahead of the wider reopening of society, under proposals currently being examined by the Department of Health.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has asked officials to examine the possibility of revising the order of age cohorts scheduled to receive the vaccine so that younger people in the 18-30 age group would get their shots once those in their 60s are vaccinated.
Some senior officials fear a spike in cases among younger people once society begins to reopen, as under-30s are more likely than other age groups to socialise together in large numbers.
“I’ve asked the department to assess the case for vaccinating younger cohorts earlier, on the basis of reducing overall transmission as quickly as possible,” Mr Donnelly told The Irish Times.
The proposal comes as Government prepares to decide on further reopening after the May bank holiday.
The Government will outline in two weeks’ time what restrictions will be removed over the month of May “on the principle of what opens stays open”, a source said. This will include non-essential retail and personal services.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has indicated that the month of June could see the reopening of hotels and guesthouses. Sources said a plan for the resumption of outdoor hospitality is currently being worked on before indoor hospitality returns, but firm dates have not yet been set.
Intensive discussions are taking place about further changes to the vaccination programme. Though it is understood there is significant resistance to the move from some public health doctors and vaccination experts, there is a push from the political side of Government to extend the interval between doses of the vaccine.
This would enable more people to benefit from the protection offered by a first shot of the vaccine, an approach that has helped the United Kingdom reach huge numbers of people with an initial dose. The Department of Health is currently carrying out an impact analysis of widening the interval beyond the current four weeks.
Meanwhile, amid ongoing frustration over the political and practical difficulties associated with mandatory hotel quarantine, some senior Government figures believe exemptions to the system may grow to include issues such as family bereavement, surrogacy, family illness and essential work, and that increased testing will go hand in hand with a greater role for home quarantine and less reliance on the hotel system.
The Government is understood to be considering plans to recognise vaccine certificates from other jurisdictions as grounds for exemption from hotel quarantine – but only for vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency.
Earlier on Friday, it was announced by the department that the Red Cow Moran Hotel has been added to the locations to be used for the mandatory hotel quarantine.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has given Ireland 10 days to respond to a letter outlining “concerns” about mandatory hotel quarantine.
It comes after Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and France were added to the so-called “red list”, provoking a furious reaction from ambassadors.
The commission has asked for clarification on how countries are selected for the red list, as the five are not the areas with the highest infection rates in the European Union.
In a statement on Friday, the department said that the expert travel advisory group takes into account countries with outbreaks involving known variants of concern, countries with a very high 14-day incidence and countries with a high 14-day incidence.
Ireland’s 14-day incidence of the disease now stands at 119 cases per 100,000 people nationally.
A further 11 deaths of Covid-19 patients were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team on Friday. A further 420 confirmed cases of the disease were also reported, bringing to 242,819 the total number of cases in the Republic.