The Health Service Executive says the first delivery of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines for children is expected to arrive in Ireland next week.

The paediatric doses are a third of the quantity of the vaccine administered to people aged over 12, as recommended by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).

NIAC advised that the vaccines should be given in a two-dose schedule, three weeks apart.

A spokesperson says "the HSE is forecasting the first delivery of Paediatric Comirnaty (Pfizer) to be received in Ireland during the week commencing 13 December".

Following today's NIAC endorsement of the EMA's decision to approve vaccines for children aged between five and 11, the HSE says it is now "operationalising these recommendations in a safe and timely manner".

The spokesperson says "an important part of this next stage of the Covid-19 vaccine programme will also be to provide trusted and accurate information to help parents and guardians make the best decision for their families, regarding the vaccine for their children".

The advice was given to the Government today and around 480,000 primary school children will now be offered a vaccine.

While some children in the five and 11 age group may receive their vaccine this month, it is likely to be January before the main programme begins.

The HSE will now put in place plans to deliver the programme.

NIAC has also recommended that three categories within those aged five to 11 years be prioritised for vaccination, at the same time as others with an underlying condition.

The categories are those with an underlying condition; living with a younger child with complex medical needs and living with an immunocompromised adult.

Children in this age group will receive the Pfizer vaccine and the recommendations have been endorsed by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan.

In its published advice, NIAC said that vaccination should be offered to this age group "because of the favourable benefit risk profile of the vaccine, to protect them from severe disease, the consequences that can follow infection".

It said that the three priority groups identified in the five to 11 year age group should be offered vaccination with the same priority as booster doses, for those aged 16 to 49 years with an underlying condition.

It has also recommended that children aged five to 11 years who are severely immunocompromised should be given a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, at least 28 days after the second dose, to complete the primary series.

For all other children in this cohort, they should be offered vaccination with the same priority as booster doses for those under 40 years of age.

NIAC has said that before vaccination, parents or guardians should be informed of the known benefits, risks and uncertainties of Covid-19 vaccination and the decision to accept, defer or refuse vaccination for a child should be respected.

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Speaking in the Dáil, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the HSE and the Department of Health were now working on a vaccination plan and "we will back within a number of days".

The Tánaiste said that rolling out vaccines to this age group will be a "massive challenge", but that he was confident in the HSE's abilities.

Leo Varadkar reiterated that Ireland has the fourth highest vaccination rate in the Europe Union and that information will be provided to parents about the vaccine.

He added that, for parents, it will be "absolutely your choice as to whether you choose to have your child vaccinated or not".

The Taoiseach also defended the Government's reintroduction of Covid-19 restriction laws without pre-legislative scrutiny in the Oireachtas.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

He was criticised by two independent TDs who raised questions about the level of parliamentary examination of laws providing for Digital Covid Certificates and the reintroduction of restrictions.

Catherine Connolly called for a "human right assessment" of the legislation, while Mattie McGrath called on the Taoiseach to produce studies to prove that Covid certs reduced the transmission of the virus.

Mr Martin said he accepted that people were "war weary", but added: "I don't think you can manage a pandemic without a legislative framework."

Meanwhile, the Minister for Arts and Culture Catherine Martin has said the HSE will work with urgency to operationalise the roll-out of Covid-19 for children aged 5-11 years.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Ms Martin said that information will be provided and that reassurance is key for parents who must ultimately decide about vaccinating their children.

She said this will be the first delivery of paediatric Covid vaccines to the country and that the Department of Health and HSE will work quickly on plans to administer them.

Professor of Immunology at Dublin City University Christine Loscher said NIAC's recommendation is "fantastic news" and should begin in parallel to the vaccination of adults.

She added that it is "particularly good news for parents of children with underlying conditions" who will be prioritised at the start of the roll-out.

Speaking on RTÉ's Claire Byrne, Professor Loscher said that the vaccine roll-out needs to be maximised to the same levels as last year, so that the first children aged five to 11 in priority groups can get the vaccine before Christmas.

Separately, the Health Service Executive said that people may be getting several appointments for a Covid-19 booster vaccine from multiple sources, even if they have already been vaccinated.

The Department of Health reported a further 5,590 cases of Covid-19 yesterday.

As of 8am this morning, there were 544 people being treated in hospitals with the virus, up 39 on the same time yesterday.

Of these, 118 patients were in ICUs with Covid-19, up one on yesterday.

Additional reporting Fergal Bowers, Sinéad Hussey