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Health Minister says Covid-19 vaccine by December 'unlikely'

Stephen Donnelly has said that a vaccine will likely be available in Ireland early in 2021.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

PREPARATIONS FOR A Covid-19 vaccine in Ireland are moving swiftly but a rollout of the vaccine in December is “unlikely”, according to the Minister for Health.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that a vaccine should be available in Ireland “quite soon”, but not until the new year.

Two of the vaccines that Ireland has signed up for – those from Pfizer-BioNTech and AstroZeneca – are looking for market authorisation within the coming weeks.

Speaking on On the Record on Newstalk, Donnelly said that after the authorisation process, there is then “additional work that has to be done”, but we could potentially be looking at a vaccine “early in the new year”.

Donnelly said that Professor Brian MacCraith, chair of the vaccine taskforce, and his team are “very quickly putting in place the distribution needed for that”.

“December is unlikely, to be honest with you, but quite soon,” Donnelly said.

“It’s very heartwarming because if we go back a few months, the experts were saying that it would be mid next year, potentially the end of next year, or indeed in three or four years’ time before we might see these things,” he said.

“Ireland is currently signed up to four of the vaccines, and on Tuesday I’m bringing a memo to government on a fifth,” he said. 

Donnelly said that Ireland has made advance purchase of several million doses of Covid-19 vaccines. 

Discussing the take-up of a vaccine, Donnelly said that there has been no discussion at government to make any vaccine compulsory.

“Several EU countries have introduced legislation on mandatory vaccination. We haven’t, and I can tell you there’s been no conversation at a government level about doing that,” Donnelly said.

“My strong preference is that it would be voluntary,” he said.

“We just rolled out the biggest flu vaccination programme in the history of the state, and indeed, if we could get our hands on more flu vaccines, people are looking to take it, and there’s also been a strong update in the HPV vaccine.”

“There is this anti-vax movement – a lot of what I’ve seen is misinformation, and it’s very dangerous, but I think the vast majority of people see that for what it is and I think people are well disposed to taking the vaccine when it comes out,” he said.

The strategy for rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine is due to be presented to the government by 11 December.

The vaccine taskforce is considering how to manage the vaccine in Ireland.

It is looking at who will administer the vaccine, how it will be distributed, and what groups should be able to avail of it first.

As Ireland and Northern Ireland review restrictions ahead of Christmas, discussion has been raised on collaboration between the two jurisdictions to monitor travel and quarantine requirements.

Donnelly said that what Northern Ireland is looking for is that “when people land, be it in Belfast or Dublin or Cork or wherever it is, that there would be a sharing of the e-locator data, because obviously, people move around the island”.

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“They’re up for it and the legal advice they have for their jurisdiction is that they can do it. The legal advice unfortunately that we have from the attorney general for our jurisdiction is that it’s not possible,” Donnelly said.

“There is one potential route through it, which is that the EU is now rolling out an EU-wide e-locator form. We’re going to be signing up to that, now obviously, Northern Ireland as part of the UK may not be but it might be one useful way,” he said.

“Certainly, from Ireland’s perspective and from my perspective the more common our approach is on the island, the better.”

Level Five restrictions are due to lift on Tuesday as Ireland moves to a modified version of Level Three.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland entered a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown on Friday as most businesses closed in a move to limit the spread of the virus ahead of Christmas. 

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