DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland became the latest European Union member state to commit to offering COVID-19 vaccines to children aged 12-15 as it opened its strongly subscribed programme to 16 and 17-year olds on Tuesday.
Ireland’s vaccine programme is currently running at one of the fastest rates in Europe, with almost 70% of its adult population fully vaccinated and more than 84% partially protected with the first of two doses – greatly reducing the rate of serious illness and death from COVID-19.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for use in teens, encouraging EU member states including France, Greece and Denmark to drop their vaccine age to 12.
The Irish government hopes those aged 12 to 15 will be fully vaccinated within the first half of September, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told national broadcaster RTE.
Ireland has been working its way down the age groups and will also for the first time open walk-in vaccination centres this weekend to encourage recently eligible younger people to get a shot, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said.
“This represents a very significant opening up of our vaccination programme. We want to encourage high participation rates now among these remaining age cohorts,” Martin told reporters.
The more transmissible Delta variant is leading to a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections in Ireland, particularly among younger people, although the seven-day growth rate has shown tentative signs of plateauing in recent days.
Ireland has reported 294,272 COVID-19 cases among its 4.9 million population, with 5,026 related deaths.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Susan Fenton)