Children under 12 years old have been told avoid indoor settings for the next two weeks under shock new recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
hief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan’s team advised children should not attend birthday parties, nativity plays, communions, sleepovers or indoor playdates while the level of Covid-19 transmission continues to surge.
Nphet also recommended all children over the age of nine should wear masks on public transport and in shops, while they will also be necessary for pupils in primary schools from third class upwards.
The new rules on masks are to remain in place until at least mid-February under the advice sent to the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
It was also recommended that the requirement to produce a Covid pass be extended beyond hospitality to other settings where there is high risk of transmission.
The Government will consider the advice in the coming days ahead of a Cabinet meeting next week.
Meanwhile, it also emerged children aged between five and 11 will be offered vaccines based on the class they attend in school and shots will be administered in vaccination centres.
The National Immunisation Advisory Council (Niac) is expected to move swiftly on offering advice for vaccines for younger children after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave the green light to the jabs.
The vaccine programme for children will run parallel to the HSE’s booster campaign for adults.
The first batch of vaccines for under 11s will arrive around December 20 and pending Niac’s advice the HSE will be able to move quickly.
Around 480,000 children will be eligible. A major information campaign will be launched to inform parents about the vaccines.
The HSE will survey parents so as to identify concerns they may have about giving their children vaccines.
Parental consent will be needed for children to receive the vaccine.
The most recent findings from the ESRI Social Monitoring Survey carried out earlier this month found intentions among parents to vaccinate their children under 12 remain divided. While 39pc said they would allow it, 31pc said they would not, and 30pc are unsure.
There are still around 25pc of children aged between 12 and 17 years old who have not yet been vaccinated.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil he expected Niac to approve the vaccine for
children in the coming days.
A senior HSE source said they will be ready to administer the vaccines as soon as they arrive, but whether children are given priority ahead of other age groups will be a decision for the Government.
A Government source said it is envisioned the booster campaign and the children’s vaccines will run parallel to each other.
The EMA approval for the vaccines developed by Pfizer and German company BioNTech is still to be rubber-stamped by the European Commission before health authorities in member states can begin administering jabs.
After evaluating a study of the vaccine in more than 2,000 youngsters, the EMA estimated it was about 90pc effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in young children and said the most common side effects were pain at the injection site, headaches, muscle pain and chills.
Pfizer tested a dose that is a third of the amount given to adults for primary school-age children.
Even with the smaller jab, children who are five to 11 years old developed antibody levels as strong as teenagers and young adults getting the regular-strength vaccines.
Studies on Pfizer’s vaccine in children have not been big enough to detect any rare side effects from the second dose, like the chest and heart inflammation seen in mostly male older teenagers and young adults.
The Austrian government began offering vaccines to children aged between five and 11 before receiving EMA approval.
The HSE is ramping up its booster campaign and it is now hoped people aged over 50 will be given third jabs before Christmas.
Niac gave the green light to give booster shots to over-50s. However, there was concern the cohort would not be able to get their vaccines jabs until the new year.
Senior government sources expect the over-60s to be almost completed by mid-December and the HSE can then move on to the over-50s.
Walk-in centres for vaccines will open for anyone aged over 60 and healthcare workers. GPs are focusing on giving the additional vaccines to the over-70s.
A source said a “military approach” has been taken with the booster campaign.