Parents are being warned to brace themselves for "misinformation" about childhood vaccines as the vaccination of 12-15 year-olds is rolled out.
“It’s important that parents prime themselves now and know they will be a target in the next two to three weeks, particularly through social media,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said.
He told a National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) briefing that childhood vaccines “are a particular target for misinformation and disinformation”.
At the same briefing, Professor Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Council (Niac), said the decision to vaccinate 12-15 year olds was made by Niac on foot of “what was best for children in those age groups” having taken all factors into account.
Those factors included the risk of long Covid and other impacts such as increased anxiety and eating disorders, she said.
Prof Butler said, however, there had been no decision to try for herd immunity in the population and that Nphet would “respect that decision” should parents choose not to vaccinate their children.
“We would strongly recommend that parents who have children that might have an underlying condition should avail of it at the earliest opportunity,” Professor Butler said.
“Or there may be parents where there might be a younger child who has an underlying condition, or a vulnerable adult who may be immunocompromised that might not respond as well to the vaccines and that they want to protect.”
Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan reiterated the message from the Government that children will not be expected to be vaccinated ahead of the start of the new school year.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly had earlier said there is “absolutely no suggestion” that unvaccinated children will not be able to return to the classroom. He said that while offering the shot is “ethical and right", the final decision will be up to parents.
Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar said the reopening of colleges will also not be dependent upon teens being vaccinated.
While the return to campus might be staggered, Mr Varadkar told RTÉ radio the Government wanted students to have a campus experience. In terms of the vaccine, all the Government can do is encourage people and answer any questions that parents might have, he said.
In the meantime walk-in clinics will open this weekend to make it “extra easy” for anyone who wishes to be vaccinated, he said.
The Nphet briefing heard children aged between 16 and 18 are now the primary drivers of infections across the country.
Those aged under 12 are now displaying a case frequency of 15 per 100,000, compared with 90 per 100,000 for 16-18 year olds.
As regards whether or not children younger than 12 will eventually be offered the vaccine, Prof Butler said the data to substantiate such a decision was not yet available.
She said studies were under way among children as young as five, and some involving children who are even younger, as to the appropriateness or otherwise of giving those cohorts a vaccine, but that decisions on those age groups were still some months off.
Meanwhile, Dr Holohan sounded an optimistic note on foot of the steady hospitalisation figures, saying that “in the coming weeks” the country may be in a position to “move away from some of the economic or social restrictions” currently in place, assuming the steady progress in vaccinations continues.
However, Professor Philip Nolan, chair of Nphet's epidemiological modelling group, said the path of the virus in the coming weeks remains uncertain.