YOUNG people in Ireland are purposely contracting Covid-19 so they can qualify for a digital vaccine certificate in order to gain access to indoor dining areas as well as international travel.
According to the Health Service Executive (HSE), teenagers and young adults aren't concerned about getting infected and simply see the virus as a shortcut to the pub and/or to the departures lounge.
Dr Douglas Hamilton of the HSE revealed that many youngsters are throwing 'Covid parties' in order to spread the virus around, and that he's heard from several concerned parents who are aware of what their kids are doing.
"They say there may have been parties or gathering where their children, in the age group of 16 to 25, may have gone with the intention of getting Covid and then getting the Covid cert to give them the chance to travel," Dr Hamilton told Midlands 103.
Covid-19 vaccine certificates are a requirement for anyone who wishes to access indoor dining areas or travel abroad at the moment.
They have been handed out to everyone who has been fully vaccinated, or anyone who has recovered from the virus in the last six months, and this is the loophole the youngsters are exploiting.
Dr Hamilton said the HSE was "strongly advising" against intentional infection, and insisted that vaccination provides much better protection from the virus than infection does.
"We advise that young people register as soon as possible to get vaccinated," he added.
In a statement, the HSE condemned the practice as "extremely risky and dangerous".
"The currently circulating Delta variant has higher morbidity and mortality rates, also for the young," the statement read.
"With this comes higher rate of 'long Covid', potentially resulting in lifelong cardiac, respiratory, cerebral or renal disease.
"It also carries a high risk of onward spread to elderly and other vulnerable people, who may not have mounted as good an immune response to vaccination as younger and fully fit people, putting them at risk of serious disease."
Vaccine registration in Ireland is now open to 16 and 17-year-olds, and there's a concerted drive from the government to encourage young people to get their jabs.
Vaccine hesitancy is highest among young age groups in Ireland, though the country's overall rate is one of the lowest in Europe.