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Monday 25 September 2023 Dublin: 18°C Hate crime legislation proposals will also be brought to Cabinet today by the justice minister.
# Cabinet
Taoiseach to meet vaccine task force ahead of Cabinet as considerations given to extend gap between Pfizer jabs
It’s understood the time between vaccines being administered will be looked at, as has been the approach adopted by the UK and Canada.

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN will meet with officials from the HSE and the vaccination expert task force this morning ahead of today’s Cabinet meeting to assess what changes to the vaccine rollout strategy might be needed.

It’s understood the time between vaccine doses being administered to individuals will be looked at as one possible option for re-jigging the strategy, as has been the approach adopted by the UK and Canada.

One option NIAC are considering is extending the interval between the first and second Pfizer vaccine to increase the number of people vaccinated.

NIAC chair Professor Karina Butler said on Tuesday evening that it is a factor that can be considered, saying it has been done successfully in other jurisdictions. She said at the time that it is “something that may be needed or may not be needed” depending on supplies. 

NIAC has recommended that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine be given only to people aged over 60 after reports of rare blood clotting events emerged.

Those rare blood clotting events occur in 4-10 cases in every million AZ vaccine doses administered, in which one person may die.

The HSE has cancelled AstraZeneca vaccine appointments due from today onwards, except for some at-risk people over the age of 60.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson said yesterday that it is to “proactively delay” the rollout of its Covid-19 vaccine to Europe as US health agencies recommended a precautionary pause in the use of the jab over blood clot reports. 

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a joint statement to recommend the vaccine be paused “out of an abundance of caution” after six cases of a rare type of blood clot were reported.

The agencies said that six people who experienced the clots were between the ages of 18 and 48, were women, and that symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination.

Meeting ahead of Cabinet today 

It is understood that the Taoiseach met with officials throughout the day yesterday about what impact this will have on the vaccine programme.

He will meet with officials in an early morning meeting before Cabinet meets at 10am today.

Speaking last night, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said a revamped vaccination plan should be known and made public within a few days.

Senior government sources have said the news from Astrazeneca and Johnson & Johnson “is not good” for the vaccine programme.

The issue is set to dominate today’s Cabinet meeting, with ministers to discuss what impact it will have on the government’s plan to reopen society, with questions likely to be raised about whether there will be delays.

“It’s hard to know what the implications are,” said one source, adding that they can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to the vaccine programme.

It is understood that there are concerns at government level in relation the chopping and changing of advice on the vaccines and the impact that might have on vaccine hesitancy by the public.

Another source said “the bumps in the road are getting more frequent”, but believes there are ways and means of re-working the plan. 

It is understood there are no viable options to purchase more vaccines outside the EU programme, with the US and UK not being in a position to give surplus supplies until after Q2.

It is believed that the fallout from the expansion – and now pausing – of the mandatory quarantine system will also be a key talking point today.

Last week a series of meetings were held at senior official level to find a compromise for adding additional countries to the list. 

While it was agreed on Friday that 16 countries were to be added to the list, it was also agreed that the HPSC will advise, as a matter of urgency, on the prospect of fully vaccinated people being exempt from hotel quarantine. 

Since Friday, five cases of hotel detention have been challenged in the High Court.

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris stated publicly that vaccinated people should be exempt from quarantine, however, Acting Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn has said they should not be exempt. 

Last night, matters escalated further, with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly stating that bookings have been “paused” on a precautionary basis, in order to ramp up capacity in the system.

The report came as a number of countries with close relations to Ireland – the US, Canada, France, and Italy – are to officially go on the ‘category 2′ list from this Thursday, 15 April. 

Cabinet will be told that by Monday there will be around 950 hotel rooms, with 1,300 the week following.

However, critics of the system within government have said issues relating to capacity were raised last week, with ministers asking the Department of Health if the expansion could be operational. 

Last week’s controversy centered around the differing viewpoints of Donnelly and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. It is expected the rising number of court cases, and the stalling of the bookings will create a flash-point around the Cabinet table today between the two ministers. 

Coveney will be in attendance at the meeting prior to heading to London to discuss issues relating to Northern Ireland.

A number of sources raised serious concerns last night about Ireland’s future connectivity with the rest of the world, and whether people will be facing wait lists to enter Ireland in the months to come.

Hate crime legislation proposals

Separately, Justice Minister Helen McEntee will bring proposals to government today on new hate crime legislation, which will include tougher sentences for crimes which are motivated by hate and prejudice.

It was expected that the health minister would today seek the Cabinet’s approval to appoint Robert Watt, the Department of Health’s interim secretary general, on a permanent basis. However, sources state this will now not happen this morning, but at a later meeting.

Questions have been raised previously about the government’s decision to sanction a pay rise of €81,000 per year for the post of secretary general of the Department of Health.

It will outstrip the annual pay of both the secretaries general to the government and the Department of Finance.

As the former secretary general of DEPR, Watt was previously paid €211,000.

As the new secretary general of the Department of Health, he will get a €292,000 salary.

The Dáil’s spending watchdog, as well as a number of Opposition TDs, have called for an investigation into the sign off of such a significant salary increase of the new secretary general.

Ireland’s recovery

Also on the agenda for today, the Finance Minister Pashcal Donohoe will publish the Stability Programme Update. 

In order to comply with requirements under the Stability and Growth Pact, the SPU must be submitted to the European Commission and Council by end-April.

It sets out that Ireland’s GDP is forecast to expand by 4.5% this year and 5% next year.

The update also states that economic recovery over the second half of this year and into next year rests on the success of the vaccination programme and the assumption of an easing of public health restrictions.

Should there be a “severe epidemiological scenario” whereby the current restrictions need to remain in place for a prolonged period, GDP growth this year would be almost one percentage point lower and would be 2.5 percentage points lower next year.

This means the Irish economy would be approximately 4% smaller by the end of next year than it would under the baseline forecasts.

The report highlights that the speed at which the economy can recover will depend on the success of our vaccination programme. This week has seen a significant body shock to the strategy with issues with Astrazeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Should the impact be minimal and should the rollout stay on track, the report states that it should allow for a more significant but cautious easing of containment measures over the summer. 

“This will allow for a substantive and sustainable recovery to begin,” it states.

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