Paul Reid, the head of the Republic of Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE), has said that the Government has already begun planning a child vaccination campaign which he hopes begins “as quickly as possible”. Yesterday, the the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved use of the Pfizer jab for five to 11 year-olds, with the vaccine now waiting approval from the country’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee, which will most likely follow the EMA’s original decision. The Times has the story.
Reid said delivery of the children’s vaccine across Europe was scheduled towards the end of December. “What we would be doing in the meantime is mobilising a plan and the channels in which we would prepare the vaccination of those younger age groups,” he said at a HSE weekly briefing.
The EMA said that a lower dose of the vaccine would be administered to primary school children (10 µg compared with 30 µg), with research showing that younger children produced a comparable immune response with the lower dose to that seen in people who received the higher dose.
The agency said the most common side effects in children aged five to 11 year-olds were mild or moderate, and similar to those recorded in older age groups. It said the benefits of vaccinating younger children outweighed the risks, particularly among those with conditions that increase the risk of severe forms of the disease.
Reid told yesterday’s briefing that there was a “really serious and continued escalation” of Covid transmission in the community. He noted that the public had responded to calls to work from home and curb social activities, but said this needed to be sustained because transmission levels were “still far too high” and putting severe pressure on the health system.
“We are still in a very volatile position overall in terms of where the virus is at,” he said.
There were 4,764 new Covid cases reported yesterday, with 598 people in hospital (down 13 from Wednesday) including 126 in intensive care (up six). The briefing was told that in the past week 395 Covid patients were admitted to hospital, an increase of 29% on the previous week. The five-day moving average of daily cases is at 4,665 compared with a peak of 6,867 in January.
Reid acknowledged the recent delays in accessing PCR tests during a week in which there has been no availability for testing in many counties across the country. The briefing was told that the HSE had increased its testing capacity and that 210,000 tests were completed in the past week. Three more PCR test centres are expected to open over the next week, including one in the Midlands and two on the east coast.
Reid said the healthcare system was “not elastic” and “not infinite” in terms of the demands it could meet. He said it would be misleading to suggest it could keep “surging up” and that there would be some testing delays.
“We put in the capacity but there are limits as to what capacity we can keep pumping into a system at these levels,” he said. “There does come a point where we have to be up-front, and we have been up-front, to set out that there will be people who experience some delays in terms of getting their test.
“Those who have been clinically prioritised are receiving tests in a very timely manner on either the same day or next day. But we do acknowledge some people are waiting with the significant numbers that we have coming through in terms of self referrals.”
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