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Health Minister says Covid-19 vaccine should be free as nine freezer trucks arrive in Ireland

The Taoiseach said the low temperature fridges are being stored in Citywest before being distributed around the country.

Micheál Martin said panning is underway as how to roll out a vaccine, with the infrastructure for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “already coming into play
Micheál Martin said panning is underway as how to roll out a vaccine, with the infrastructure for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “already coming into play".
Image: Utrecht Robin/ABACA

Updated Dec 2nd 2020, 7:55 PM

NINE ULTRA-LOW temperature Covid-19 vaccine freezer trucks have arrived into the country to aid with the roll out of a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. 

The vaccine needs to be kept at -70 degrees, and specialised freezers are needed to store the vaccine.

Speaking at the Oireachtas Committee on Health this afternoon, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that his “unambiguous view” is that the State should cover all costs associated with a vaccine, but that no government decision on specific details has yet been made.

“We can’t have any situation where there would be any question of access being a problem because of affordability,” Donnelly said.

The freezer trucks that have arrived in Ireland would comprise part of the infrastructure put in place to distribute the vaccine around the country.

The cost of distributing the vaccines should be less than the cost of purchasing the vaccines themselves, according to Donnelly.

Donnelly said that the vaccine that comes onto the market first may not necessarily be the one that everyone receives, as some may be more suited to some groups of society than others.  

Earlier today, speaking during Leaders’ Questions, the Taoiseach said the work of the government’s vaccine task force is “proceeding at pace”. 

Planning is underway as how to roll out the vaccine, with the infrastructure for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “already coming into play”, said Micheál Martin.

“Yesterday saw the delivery of up to nine ultra-low temperature fridges to the country. The trucks are stored in Citywest,” said the Taoiseach.

Logistics is a key work stream that is being worked on. On the IT infrastructure, an entire database will have to be created with regard to who gets what. There is work on the workforce that administers the vaccine.

“Due to the scale of this, it will be more than the normal workforce that would administer the vaccine. There is also surveillance, monitoring and interpreting the data subsequently in terms of how it is working, the outcomes and so forth.

“There is the sequencing of who gets the vaccine first, in what order and how that happens. Of course, communications will be a vital strand. Then there is the overall governance and oversight of the operation,” he said.

With regard to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Martin informed the Dáil the storage fridges that are needed have already arrived into the country.

“They will be commissioned by the middle of next week. Then they have to be distributed within five days from the central depot when a vaccine ultimately arrives here,” he said.

He said the task force is charged with rolling out a national immunisation programme, stating that he would prefer to let them “get on with their work”, before presenting their plan to him on 11 December. 

Martin said the HSE will be a key driver in the implementation of the plan, while the Department of Health and the Minister for Health will oversee operations.

The European Medicines Agency will assess “at the latest” the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by 29 December, “maybe before that”, said the Taoiseach.

He said the responsibility on the agency is “huge”, telling the Dail that its job is recommending that a vaccine is safe and effective.

A “pressure zone” should not be created around the agency in light of today’s news that the UK is moving at a quicker pace, he said.

In terms of the Moderna vaccine, the Taoiseach said the EMA is looking at early January for a meeting to assess its market authorisation application.

Aontú’s Peadar Toíbín asked the Taoiseach about the State indemnifying the drug companies producing Covid-19 vaccines against any liabilities that arise from complications with their roll-out in the coming months.

The move is considered standard practice, according to a government spokesperson.

Martin said the indemnification is part of the European pre-purchase agreements.

“Yes, the companies have been indemnified. There is no set amount. The bottom line here at deputy is this, we either want a vaccine in a difficult global pandemic or we don’t. Now get real. This is unprecedented in terms of the progress around getting this vaccine done,” the Taoiseach told Toíbín.

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“Without pre-purchase agreements, it simply would not have happened, could not have happened, would not have happened. And the bottom line is this, this was very clear from the outset, if anyone had followed this in terms of the European debate on this.

“The European Commission on behalf of the Member States entered into agreements with companies in terms of pre-purchase with a view of getting vaccines to deal with a virus that is crippling our economy and crippling economies all over the world,” he said.

Tanáiste Leo Varadkar told a Fine Gael parliamentary meeting tonight that indemnities had been given to pharmaceutical companies previously during swine flu and said the safety profile of the current vaccines being considered by the EU look positive. 

He cautioned that it remains unclear how long a vaccine will be effective for. 

Additional reporting by Lauren Boland

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