There is no change to the official Government policy on the vaccine priority list to focus on people aged 18 to 30, a spokesperson has told RTÉ News.

It comes after the Department of Health confirmed that Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly asked for an assessment of the possibility of younger age groups being vaccinated earlier than others.

The Department said it is to see if such a move would have any impact on the transmission of the virus.

The Irish Times reported that Minister Donnelly asked officials to revise the order of age cohorts, which may result in people aged 18 to 30 getting vaccinated after those in their 60s are vaccinated.

Minister Donnelly is quoted, stating he has asked "his Department to assess the case for vaccinating younger cohorts earlier on the basis of reducing overall transmission as quickly as possible".

It is just over two weeks since the Government made changes to the vaccine roll-out to make it a system primarily based on age, following medical advice.

Labour leader Alan Kelly has called on Minister Donnelly to "stick to the plan on vaccine roll-out", saying that otherwise he is "undermining his own Government's arguments for the age-based vaccine roll-out in the first place."

Mr Kelly accused Mr Donnelly of causing "utter confusion" overnight, saying it is "deeply unsettling" for people to wake up and hear of potential changes to the vaccination plan through the media.

Earlier the Chief Executive of the Health Service Executive said the organisation is not aware of any proposal to change the vaccination priority list.

Speaking at a vaccination clinic in Dublin City University, HSE CEO Paul Reid said the only plan the HSE is working on is the Government-approved plan that is geared towards the older cohorts and medically vulnerable groups.

Fianna Fáil's James Brown, Minister of State for Law Reform, said extending the gap between vaccines is under consideration to see if it can be done.

Mr Brown said the Minister is waiting for options to be brought forward but does not believe the report will be ready to be brought before Cabinet on Tuesday.

Sinn Féin's David Cullinane said the news of this assessment is very confusing with the head of the HSE saying he did not know anything about this.

Co-leader of the Social Democrats, Roisin Shortall, said she did not think it is wise for ministers to be thinking aloud.

She said a lot of issues being considered depends on what the medical advice is and how the risks involved are balanced.


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'No evidence' to support vaccination change

A consultant microbiologist at Beaumont Hospital has said she does not see enough evidence to support such a change to prioritise younger people.

Speaking to Brendan O'Connor on RTÉ Radio 1, Dr Fidelma Fitzpatrick said "no matter what way you put it, whether it is at risk of hospitalisation or ICU or risk of dying, as you get older your risk of all that increases".

She said having spent more than a year working in a hospital around really sick people with Covid-19 she does not see the evidence to support the option of vaccinating younger people first.

Dr Fitzpatrick also said the national strategy outlined by the National Immunisation Advisory Council (NIAC) states there is much more evidence to support vaccinating people who are more likely to end up in ICU from Covid-19 and possibly die from it.

She said if it is the case that there is a higher transmission among younger groups, they are not as likely to end up in hospital or suffer severe effects like older people.

Dr Colm Henry, the HSE's Chief Clinical Officer has said the Covid-19 vaccine is a "precious resource" and medical experts, including NIAC, have decided it is best to have an age-based system that works downwards.

He said while there may be an argument for any changes, it would have to be underpinned by evidence.

He said there is building evidence that vaccines reduce transmission but he believes the rollout should be based on harm reduction and ensuring those most at risk should receive it first.

Dr Henry said NIAC would advise Government on any recommendations and the Government would then advise the HSE on any changes.

GPs can't see if patients vaccinated elsewhere

HSE IT systems do not allow GPs know if a patient has been vaccinated elsewhere in the health service, the IMO warned today.

Addressing the union's online AGM today, Chief Executive Susan Clyne said it could take four phone calls to establish the facts, and described this as a waste of time.

She later explained that if an individual gets vaccinated in the hospital system, the GP does not know immediately - and blamed this on the failure to have unique electronic health records.

She said the HSE was working on an integrated electronic vaccination portal, and called for the urgent introduction of unique electronic health records.

Ms Clyne also presented the findings of a survey which found that 70% of doctors are at risk of burnout - with younger doctors at the beginning of their careers at the highest risk.

90% of doctors had experienced some form of depression, anxiety or other mental health condition related to or made worse by work.

79% had experienced such symptoms related to the current Covid-19 pandemic, while the survey also discloses that doctors are working longer hours, with fewer breaks and many GPs are unable to secure locum cover.

The IMO Chief Executive said responses like that across all specialities suggested the problem was "systemic".

She said that apart from a need to alleviate staff shortages and enable doctors to take adequate breaks and leave, it was crucial to get rid of the stigma around mental health.

Vaccination booking opens for 67-year-olds

The HSE facility for booking Covid-19 vaccination appointments opened to 67-year-olds today.

They are being invited to register for appointments through the HSE website and the HSE's 1850 24 1850 phone line.

More than 66,000 people have registered for appointments since it opened for 69 and 68-year-olds.

HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid said the news is "encouraging" as supplies are being rolled out to the over 60s in the coming weeks.

About 90% of registrations by 68 and 69-year-olds over the past two days have been done online.

Vaccinations are due to begin on Monday for people aged 65-69 in 27 vaccination centres nationwide.

Meanwhile, two new free walk-in Covid-19 testing centres, where no appointment is necessary, open at 11am.

One is at St Catherine's Community Centre in the Liberties in Dublin, while the other is at the Primary Care Centre at Cahir in Co Tipperary.

Over the past three weeks, 32,500 people have been tested at similar facilities with 873 or 2.8% testing positive.

Pfizer has confirmed to the HSE that the additional 547,000 doses of its Covid-19 vaccine that Ireland is now due to receive before the end of June.

The company confirmed that it will be delivering in the region of 50,000 additional doses of its vaccine a week throughout a ten-week period starting on 26 April.

Mr Reid said that vaccine roll-out programme has been reset to an exciting phase and is now reaching the wider population.

Today, Mr Reid tweeted that nearly 1.2 million Covid-19 vaccination doses have been administered in total now, with 22% of the eligible population having had a first dose.

Additional reporting Dimitri O'Donnell, George Lee