A fourth Covid vaccine dose may be required to protect against the new Omicron variant, the Tánaiste has indicated.
Leo Varadkar has said a Covid vaccine may also be something people have to get on an annual basis in the future, similar to the flu jab that is administered every winter.
Encouraging everyone to get the booster shot when they are called for one, Mr Varadkar said that when a new or updated vaccine that specifically targets Omicron becomes available, the Government would "of course" roll it out.
"But we don't know when that is yet, it's more likely to be three months or more and I think it's advisable that people get the third dose.
"So it very may well be the case that this is a vaccine that particularly people with medical conditions might have to have on an annual basis as we do with the flu," he said.
Mr Varadkar said the rollout of vaccines to five-11-year-olds, which has now been approved by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), would be a "massive challenge" but pointed to the highly successful vaccine programme for adults and teenagers.
Speaking in Drogheda, Co Louth, Mr Varadkar said it was still anticipated that existing vaccines would still give a very high level of protection against severe illness, hospitalisation and death.
"We're still learning about the Omicron variants, there isn't an awful lot that we know about it, we're getting scraps of information based on small studies," Mr Varadkar said.
When asked about non-attendance levels at vaccine centres across the country, the Tánaiste suggested this could be for a number of reasons and should not be put solely down to booster vaccine hesitancy.
"I wonder if maybe there are problems in the booking system or whether there are issues that need to be ironed out. I've heard anecdotally that people are getting appointments when they've already had their third dose or people getting two appointments or not being able to cancel them," he said.
"But we know from the first phase and the second phase of the vaccine programme that we can iron out these issues and we will
But he said in some vaccination centres the non-attendance rate is as high as 50% which is "unusual".
The chair of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP Committee Dr Denis McCauley described the failure of people to attend booster vaccine appointments at vaccination centres as “very disrespectful.”
He said there have been very few no-shows at GP surgeries as people know their GP personally.
“Be respectful of the mass vaccination centres. These are people who are working very hard and it is very disrespectful to have over 80,000 people not turn up in one week. It is not appropriate. You wouldn’t do it to your GP so why are you doing it to these healthcare workers,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.