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Family carers 'devastated' after being left out of changes to vaccine priority list

Yesterday the government announced people with underlying conditions that put them at high risk have been moved up the priority list.

David Nolan is a carer for his son Ollie.
David Nolan is a carer for his son Ollie.

FAMILY CARERS HAVE said the government is ignoring them and the role they play in society after changes to the vaccination priority list announced yesterday failed to include any mention of which phase these carers should be included in.

Yesterday evening the government confirmed that those aged 16-69 with very high-risk medical conditions will be moved up from the seventh to the fourth cohort. This is the next group to be vaccinated after those aged 70, which is currently in progress.

While the news has been welcomed, the announcement lacked any clarity on when family carers would be vaccinated, despite a request by the government for the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) to look at that cohort’s place on the list.

Family Carers Ireland has said carers were “devastated at being ignored again”. Catherine Cox, Head of Communications and Policy questioned what message the government intended to sent out about how much it values the work carers do.

“The programme for Government clearly states ‘Family carers are the backbone of care provision in Ireland. They deserve support and recognition from government’,” she said.

Sadly actions speak louder than words and today our government has failed family carers. We need family carers included as a priority group for vaccinations now because Carers can’t wait.

Speaking earlier today, chairperson of NIAC Professor Karina Butler said others who are potentially more vulnerable would have to be pushed down the list if carers were bumped up. She also pointed out that many of the family members they are caring for will either receive their vaccine in the current phase or with the next cohort now that high-risk groups have been moved up.

This has been of little comfort to families like the Nolans, whose three-year-old son Ollie has Type 1 diabetes and requires specific and dedicated care to avoid serious illness. Due to Ollie’s age, he cannot receive a vaccination at any phase of the programme as none of the approved vaccines have been deemed suitable for young children.

His father David, who left his civil service job to care for Ollie, told TheJournal.ie that he was “heartbroken” not to have received better news yesterday.

Nolan said he has never requested to be moved up the list above vulnerable people, but he is seeking clarity about whether he could be included in one of the key or essential worker cohorts as currently he is in the very last group.

“Carers want people who need it most to get the vaccines because we care for them. I’m not saying I want to be vaccinated before the vulnerable groups, but I don’t want to be last and I want to know where exactly family carers fit on that list, because other workers are higher up.

There are workers in supermarkets and bookies who will probably get vaccinated before me, people in the entertainment industry. If I had stayed in my civil service job I’d have been deemed more important.
I took myself out of a higher category when I left me job to become his carer. It would be very simple to say ‘carers are important, we will vaccinate them in category X’. I would have been happy to have the acknowledgement of the fact that paid carers and unpaid carers do the same work. I just want to know where we fit.

Nolan said he is concerned about the potential impact of Covid-19 on his son’s heath if the virus made its way into their home. Last year Ollie was hospitalised with a head cold because his blood sugar became so erratic.

The toddler’s parents are also concerned about what would happen if they became ill with the disease themselves and could no longer provide the very dedicated care their son needs.

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“My daughter goes back to school next week. If the virus is brought back into the house and we get sick, his care is under threat,” Nolan said. He said that while outcomes of diabetes are good, the input is complicated and carers need to give it their full attention.

“If I miss ten grams of carbs in his meal and don’t adjust for it he’s at risk of a hypoglycemic coma. Every meal and every dose I give him has to be micromanaged and calculated.

The government has no contingency plan for what happens if a person’s carer gets sick. Now if we get sick with it, we can’t have people coming in here to care for Ollie in case they get infected. I couldn’t put my mother at risk. And the HSE isn’t going to send a carer into a house that has an outbreak.

Nolan said he feels let down by the government.

“I feel lower than dirt because I’m not worth being part of the conversation about the vaccine. I’m gutted.

“The government knows we do this out of love and that we’ll never stop, so they don’t have to do anything for us. They know, no matter what, we’ll keep going and so they can take us for granted. It’s hurtful.”

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