ALL children in Ireland aged five to 11 years will be offered their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine from today.
While vaccines are already available for children at risk of severe illness, or those living with someone at higher risk from the virus, this will be expanded to give all children access to a jab.
Commenting on the policy change, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said: "While we know that most children in in the 5 - 11 age group will experience a very mild form of this disease, for a small few, they may become severely ill.
"Vaccines are doing an excellent job of preventing severe illness and disease in those who are fully vaccinated. This is good news.
"Getting your child vaccinated is a decision between you and your child. I encourage all parents and guardians to engage with the trusted health advice available on the HSE website, and with your own family clinician if you have any concerns about bringing your child for this vaccine."
The announcement comes as the booster rollout is being extended – a week ahead of schedule – to those over sixteen.
Appearing on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, HSE Director-General Paul Reid said there has been a 140% increase in hospitalisations over a 14-day period.
Hospital staff levels are struggling to cope, he said, compared to January last year.
"In particular where we're seeing a high level of impact is in our frontline staff," he said.
"Of the numbers we are reporting [that are] out, about 35% of those are nursing and midwives, and a further 35% are people directly involved in patient and client care, health and social care professionals in our community...and indeed our National Ambulance Service," Mr Reid said.
On Monday, the nation reported 16,986 cases of Covid-19. The figure rose to 21,926 by Friday evening.
Among the 865 patients currently in hospital with the virus, 84 are in intensive care units.