Varadkar expects it will be possible to offer Covid-19 jabs to children within months

Tánaiste and Taoiseach say schools will reopen next week as planned despite rising cases

Martin: ‘I think the more outdoor activities we can continue with the healthier and the better’. Photograph: iStock

Martin: ‘I think the more outdoor activities we can continue with the healthier and the better’. Photograph: iStock

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he anticipates that it will be possible to offer Covid-19 vaccinations to primary school children within months.

His comments come amid concern over an increase in cases of the virus in the five to 12-year-old age group.

Mr Varadkar also raised the possibility that rapid antigen tests could be used for children who are close contacts of a case in their classroom pod.

Despite the rise in cases among children both Mr Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that schools will return after the midterm as planned.

Speaking in UCD Mr Martin said that there is no consideration being given to extending the midterm.

He said: “The Nphet on Tuesday did raise the issue of the fact that the incidence level among five to 12-year-olds was much higher than the previous week so they drew our attention to that.

“But no specific advice in relation to that.”

At a press conference in Longford Mr Varadkar said: “As things stand we’re not anticipating any school closures or any need to extend the half term or Christmas breaks.

“We’re not anywhere near that point yet.

“And the thing we need to prioritise for kids is school because they’ve missed enough school already so I think we’d need to see a very serious deterioration in the situation before we’d get to that point.”

He said it is not a surprise that there’s a high instance of the virus in the five to 12-year-old age group as they are not vaccinated.

Case numbers

He said booster shots have begun reducing case numbers in the over 80s and said he hoped this will happen with the over-60s when they get the extra shots.

Mr Varadkar added: “We’d anticipate in the next few months that it will be possible to offer the vaccine to primary school children as well and that can help too.”

In the meantime is said it’s important that if a child has symptoms that they stay away from school and he encouraged parents to sign their children up for nasal flu vaccines.

There have been moves towards approving the Pfizer vaccine for five to 12-year-olds in the United States.

Medical authorities there have decided that the benefits of giving the shots to children outweigh other health risks though final approval has not yet been given by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Taoiseach noted these developments and said the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will “make a call” on vaccines for children with Ireland’s own national authorities considering the balance between the risk and benefits.

Asked if a rollout to this age group would be ready to go he said: “We would have sufficiency of supplies coming in now in terms of the European procurement programme. There are some steps left to go before we get to that stage.”

Separately, Mr Varadkar was asked if there should be a return to contact tracing for cases in schools.

Consider

He said Nphet is going to consider if this needs to be looked at again.

Mr Varadkar noted the rollout of antigen tests for adults who are close contacts. He said:“it may be the case that we have to apply that to schools as well.

“But that would’t necessarily mean every child in the class being tested but it might mean kids in a pod for example.

“So if one kid gets infected it might make sense then to test all the kids in the pod as well using rapid test.

“But what we don’t want to go back to is children being excluded from school for ten days because that was very disruptive and largely unnecessary because the vast majority of them didn’t have Covid.”

Mr Martin meanwhile, highlighted the importance of children’s outdoor activities and sports continuing despite the current high Covid-19 levels and said that Government has gotten “no specific advice” from Nphet on the issue.

His remarks come after the deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said on Wednesday that parents should consider whether their children need to engage in playdates and sport, given the high levels of the virus.

Mr Martin was asked if he agreed with Mr Glynn’s suggestion that parents should limit the activities of their children.

He said he didn’t hear the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) press conference but that the consistent message from the advisory body has been “towards all of us generally just reigning it in a bit, watching our behaviour in respect of the wearing of masks, general socialisation.

“We didn’t get any specific advice in relation to specific sectors, rather a more general advice basically, that we need to adhere as a people to the very basic guidelines.

“And if we all did that cumulatively it would have a very beneficial effect.”