(The story corrects headline, first, fifth paragraph to show highest ‘key worker’ group refers to those involved in vaccine programme)
DUBLIN (Reuters) – Workers in the Irish education sector and those in essential jobs unable to avoid a high risk of exposure will be prioritised in the government’s planned COVID-19 vaccine rollout ahead of a wider distribution to under 65s.
European Union governments are considering who should receive vaccines first as they await a decision later this month from the bloc’s drug regulator on whether to approve the first candidate developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Neighbouring Britain became the first Western country to begin vaccinating its population on Tuesday.
It is prioritising care homes, health workers, people aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions and those in descending age groups from 80 to 50 in its first wave.
A slightly different approach outlined by Ireland on Tuesday will see key workers in services essential to the vaccination programme such as logistics receiving the shot after elderly care home residents, the over 65s and healthcare workers but before those under the age of 65 with medical conditions or living in crowded accommodation.
Key workers in environments where there is a high risk of exposure, such as food supply, public and commercial transport, will be placed ahead of those aged 55-64 years, alongside school and pre-school staff.
Next in line, “occupations important to the functioning of society” where protective measures can be followed without much difficulty, such as the entertainment sector, will get priority over the remaining 18-54 year-olds to try to enable social and economic activity, the government said.
If, at that point, evidence demonstrates the vaccine or vaccines prevent transmission, those aged 18-34 should be prioritised because of their increased level of social contact and role in transmission, it added.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Barbara Lewis)