By Cate McCurry, PA
The Taoiseach said the Government will approach the vaccine campaign for young children “with sensitivity” over fears of vaccine hesitancy among parents.
Micheál Martin said that “very comprehensive” information and guidance will be published for parents.
It is expected that the vaccine programme for children aged five to 11 will begin fully in January.
Mr Martin said while he understands the “sensibilities involved”, the Government will be “recommending strongly” that parents facilitate their children getting vaccinated.
Plans to extend the vaccination programme to children was set out by the HSE last week.
High-risk children are being prioritised through Children’s Health Ireland and the paediatric hospitals, with the campaign getting under way this week.
Registration for other high-risk children will open on December 28th, with these groups set to receive their vaccination from January 3rd.
All other children aged five to 11 will start to be vaccinated from January 10.
“I think we have to approach it with sensitivity. We have to provide very comprehensive information and guidance to parents,” Mr Martin said.
“The clinicians and doctors will be providing that information along with our public health leadership teams and that’s the way we approach all vaccination programmes, particularly with children.
“I mean historically with vaccines, we’ve all experienced being vaccinated as children through a range of vaccines and vaccination programmes, so it’s not something new.
“My own view is that so far, Ireland as a people – and I pay tribute to the robust debate within society which has been facilitated by media with the facilitation of different experts coming forward and so on – it has tended to land, I think, in a very centre ground of opinion which I think has informed the very high take-up of the vaccination so far amongst the adult population.”
He said that Ireland is among the few countries to have a high vaccination rate of 94 per cent in the adult population.
“I think people will reflect on it and I think by and large it will help children,” the Fianna Fáil leader added.
“One of the areas we are not yet clear about in terms of more research is needed is the long term impacts of Covid on people generally and on young people also.
“It will be a very important part of giving people security in respect of Omicron and also new variants will arrive as well which can have different impacts.
“So all in all I think we will be recommending strongly that parents do facilitate their children getting vaccinated but we understand the sensibilities involved.”
He said there are likely to be separate facilities for children to receive their vaccine, but that will be finalised by experts.
“The high risk has started already in our hospitals in terms of the vaccination of children. It’s started already,” Mr Martin added.
“The next two cohorts will register from January 3 and then January 10 will be the majority of children.”