Vaccine booster shots will be offered to fully vaccinated people this winter as part of a Government plan to tackle the spread of Covid-19 variants.
lder and vulnerable people will be first in line for top-up jabs while a programme for vaccinating secondary school pupils is also being considered.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee will discuss whether booster shots should match the vaccine a person originally received or if they can be mixed.
The plans under consideration at the highest levels of Government are aimed at ensuring people continue to be protected in the winter months when the country is most vulnerable to a virus outbreak.
It comes as fears grow over the threat of the Delta variant which has delayed reopening plans in Britain.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is expected to announce stricter home quarantine measures for unvaccinated people travelling from Britain this week.
British travellers can currently end home quarantining after five days if they have written confirmation of a negative PCR test. This is expected to increase to 10 days for unvaccinated people travelling from Britain to Ireland.
Anyone with a positive result, or who opts not to avail of the test, will have to do a full 14 days of home quarantine.
However, it is not expected that Britain will be added to the State’s mandatory hotel quarantining list due to complications caused by the border with Northern Ireland.
The Government is monitoring the situation in Britain where it has been decided to postpone plans to fully reopen the country on June 21 due to the Delta variant.
Data on the impact of indoor dining and mass gatherings resuming in Britain will be studied by public health experts here as they prepare to make recommendations on easing restrictions in July.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the rising number of cases linked to the Delta variant in Britain is concerning and said new measures will be introduced to prevent it taking hold here.
“I don’t want to announce anything today but we are looking at this seriously,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ’s This Week, before adding: “Potentially longer quarantine periods particularly for people who aren’t vaccinated.”
Mr Coveney said he spoke to Mr Donnelly over the weekend and expects recommendations on travel to and from Britain to be announced this week.
“We need to do what we can to make sure, within reason, that we slow down the spread of that variant into Ireland at an absolute minimum,” he said.
“Obviously I think people who are fully vaccinated are in a different category in the UK in terms of travelling to people who are not vaccinated.”
Transport Minister Eamon Ryan spoke to his UK counterpart Grant Shapps yesterday about the situation.
Public health experts are divided on whether Ireland should reopen travel with Britain.
Consultant in infectious diseases Professor Jack Lambert said Ireland needs to “stop scaremongering about variants” as it’s likely new strains will be emerging for years to come. Instead the Government needs to communicate better about how to travel safely.
“I think we shouldn’t be scaremongering people with these variants. The strategy needs to be rapid vaccination and educating people on when they do travel, how they can adhere to Covid-safe strategies. There is a lack of communication coming from our Government.”
He said Ireland needs to adopt a more “moderate approach to travel”.
“We shouldn’t let our guard down, but there are good models of countries travelling safely and having Covid mitigation policies in place.”
Anthony Staines, professor of public health systems at Dublin City University, said Ireland’s battle with Covid-19 is “finely balanced” and fears increased travel could lead to a new wave of infections.
“The Common Travel Area would make some difference, but not a huge difference. It certainly won’t help,” he said.
“There are one million people in the UK with long-Covid at the moment and that’s a huge cost to the economy. I think we have to be realistic. We have an open border with Northern Ireland and that’s not going to be closed. We need to be ready, hopeful that things won’t go bad, but ready to squash them if they do.”
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland