Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Select Committee on Education and Skills

Estimates for Public Services 2021
Vote 26 - Education and Skills (Supplementary)
Vote 45 - Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Supplementary)

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I confirm that antigen testing is a public health initiative and that we co-operate on it. There has been terrific goodwill and co-operation within the school community to make it operational. The call centre is running and it is my understanding from parents that they receive antigen tests very quickly after applying. As I have said previously, it is an additional tool. There are great learnings from Covid and one of the things we have learned is that a whole suite of measures are required at a variety of different times. This is an additional measure to complement all the other measures that are in place in schools, such as: hand cleaning; additional supervision; PPE; and hand sanitiser The co-operation of schools has also been crucial, including having staggered opening and closing hours and break times, etc.

It is an additional tool.

On the issue of the vaccination for the under-12s specifically, the Chairman will appreciate it has been approved by the European Medicines Agency, EMA. We are currently awaiting the approval of the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, for that here. In response to the Chairman's specific question, I have met with officials of the Department to discuss how they envisage that roll-out and how it will be managed, offered and communicated. In the first instance, they were clear to say they await the confirmation from NIAC. That is the first priority. Equally, in my communication I was very clear we await the information and the roll-out. I am conscious it is very much a public health matter. Public health officials are proactively organising in anticipation of the announcement of NIAC in this regard. They have a variety of different measures potentially to put in place to make it happen. I confirm I have met with public health officials and discussed the matter with them. As a Department, we will keep an ongoing communication with them, notwithstanding the fact it is obviously not within our remit as the Department of Education. I acknowledge, from my meeting and discussions with them, that they have done a considerable body of work on the anticipated roll-out. However, they are awaiting the decision of NIAC in that regard.