TDs called on the health minister to do a "side deal" on vaccines outside of the EU process. Sam Boal/
vaccine side deals

Health Minister asks task force to examine if Ireland can procure extra vaccines alongside EU supply deal

The Dáil heard that other EU countries are securing more supplies on their own.

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has asked the vaccine high-level task force to examine whether Ireland can procure extra vaccines in parallel with the EU supply deal.

A number of TDs asked what was being done to get more vaccine supplies, pointing out that other countries in the EU were striking their own separate deals, including Germany.

“I have asked the task force to take at look at what other legitimate avenues might be available,” Donnelly told the Dáil today.

He said he has engaged with the task force to see if there are “legitimate mechanisms in parallel to EU process where we could secure vaccines”, adding that obviously the vaccines will have to be validated and authorised for use by EU agencies. 

Donnelly said there is “frustration around the world” in terms of vaccine supplies, but told TDs today that being part of the EU consortium has allowed Ireland to get significantly more doses in comparison to if Ireland had “gone it on our own”.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said he wanted to see solidarity across EU member states but said other countries are now doing their own side deals, and people are asking if Ireland plans to do the same.

The minister said he understands that a “very small number of EU countries are looking at going outside the EU process”, such as Hungary.

“My understanding is that they have elected to use a vaccine that has not been authorised by the European Medicines Agency, EMA. I would hope one thing we would all agree on in the House is that, regardless of where the vaccines come from, we would stick to vaccines that are authorised by the EMA,” he said.

Fine Gael’s Eoghan Murphy went one step further, and said that rather than consult with the task force, the minister should mandate it to secure unilaterally extra supplies of the vaccine for Ireland.  

“The EU Commission has said we are free to make these deals. Germany has done its own deal with Pfizer and it was followed by the Danes. The Danes and the Austrians are now in the first movers group with Israel for future vaccination roll-out.

“Sputnik V has arrived in Slovakia and there are rumours that the Czech Republic and the Austrians will follow. They are not waiting for EMA approval because they do not have to.  

“Today, there are more than 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Germany not being used and 1.5 million doses in France are not being used.  I ask the Minister to mandate the task force to get these supplies for Ireland,” he said. 

Donnelly said he certainly shared Murphy’s desire to get as much vaccine into the country as possible.

“As a starting point, we would use vaccines authorised by the EMA. I can confirm the EMA has now put Sputnik on its rolling review, which is the step on the way to the manufacturers of Sputnik applying for conditional marketing authorisation,” he said. 

“Certainly if there are EU countries that do not want to use all of their AstraZeneca doses we will most certainly take them. There are some countries where the uptake of AstraZeneca has been poor, for sloppy reasons to be perfectly honest whereby the wrong information was put out.

In fact, the emerging and ongoing evidence on AstraZeneca in the field is very positive. I fully agree with the thrust of what the Deputy is asking. If there are other supplies we can access certainly the task force will look to see what they may be,” added Donnelly.

Speaking earlier today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: “We are exploring options for securing additional vaccines from elsewhere, but the truth is there is a shortage of supply everywhere in the world.”

Earlier in the week, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the phone about the progress of the vaccine roll out. 

It is understood that the Taoiseach did not ask Johnson about Ireland getting the surplus supply from the UK. 

Sources state that as of now, the UK does not have a surplus supply as they have only vaccinated 40% of their population with the first dose. 

By the time the UK might have a surplus, it is expected Ireland will have an adequate supply.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry, who has raised the issue of going outside the EU process on previous occasions, said today that EU “has made a balls, quite frankly”.

“It went in and played hardball on price thinking it was dealing with office supplies and now we are what the Taoiseach has described as suffering the consequences of bumps in the delivery schedule. It is not lost on me that there are no bumps in the delivery schedule in Tyrone, Fermanagh, throughout the rest of the UK and Israel, but there are bumps in the road for us,” he said.

He called for a “side deal” to be done, stating “we are obsessed with being goody two-shoes Europeans”.

“Even at this late stage, we should ask the UK whether it can give us a number of million vaccines today on the grounds that we will replenish its stocks when ours increase in several months,” he said.

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