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A small volume of Covid-19 vaccines could be available this month, Taoiseach tells FF TDs

Up to 15 mass vaccination centres around the country are being considered, the health committee also heard today.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin
Taoiseach Micheál Martin
Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

Updated Dec 16th 2020, 8:55 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has told a meeting of Fianna Fáil TDs that a small volume Covid-19 vaccines could be available this month in Ireland. 

Martin noted that the number of Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland are “very high” and that there’s been a serious impact on the hospital system there. 

He said people have adhered very strongly to Covid-19 guidelines and that “we need to continue to protect the elderly and vulnerable over this Christmas period”. 

Martin told the TDs that a small volume of the Covid-19 vaccine could be available in December. 

The government’s high-level taskforce on Covid-19 vaccination has been in discussions with a number of third level institutions about using their facilities for the rollout.

Taskforce chairman Professor Brian MacCraith told the Oireachtas committee on health today that the challenge of implementing the vaccine is “unparalleled here and around the world”.

Speaking today, Professor MacCraith confirmed that at least 15 such mass-vaccination centres are under consideration by the team in the HSE at the moment.

“The exact details of how many staff will be required by vaccination centre is still being worked through at the moment.”

He said he had held discussions with Wicklow IT, NUI Galway, University of Limerick and the University College Cork about using their facilities for vaccinations.

Vaccination roll-out

Professor MacCraith said it would be difficult to give timelines on how many people will be vaccinated at different stages of the coming year.

However, it is anticipated that up to 5,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will arrive in Ireland before the end of the month.

Modelling carried out by the task force has indicated that this could mean that around 78,000 staff and residents in care facilities could be vaccinated by mid to late-February.

Professor MacCraith said: “It’s not possible to have absolute certainty on these matters.

“Let me give you one example that we’re working through in various models: If you take the residential care facilities which are in the top cohort there, so we do know that – and there’s just under 600 such facilities, about 589 is the number – and close to 78,000 between residents and staff.

“If you look at those numbers and you look at the initial cohort of vaccinators, you can start to think that that cohort might complete their vaccinations by mid to late-February, for example.”

However, Professor MacCraith warned that this was not yet fact, and would depend on how quickly the vaccine arrives in Ireland.

“The dates and numbers aren’t mentioned because it’s just, at this stage, impossible, to give you certainty around these,” he said.

NO FEE TAOISEACH EXIT LEVEL 5 JB18 Tánaiste Leo Varadkar Source: Julien Behal Photography via RollingNews.ie

At tonight’s Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it will be the second quarter of 2021 when people start to see the differences with the vaccine roll-out. 

With vaccines to be administered in two doses, each a month apart, it will only be after the second vaccine that people will start to see the benefits, the meeting heard. 

Varadkar said there is a real possibility that the vaccine can begin to be rolled out before the New Year, with nursing home residents and healthcare workers in contact with patients the first the receive it. 

A motion, tabled by Fine Gael’s health spokesperson Colm Burke, was passed unanimously at the meeting. 

The motion read: “That the Fine Gael party welcomes the recent positive news about Covid-19 vaccines, recognises the benefits of high levels of vaccination in protecting everyone, commits to work with healthcare professionals to promote the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines, provide accurate information and challenge misinformation.” 

Misinformation

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said discussions have taken place with social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook about ways to fight misinformation related to the vaccine.

However, he said it was important not to give the impression that the majority of people are vaccine-hesitant.

“Obviously we’re concerned about the issue of misinformation and the extent to which that will influence people’s intention to get vaccinated,” he said.

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“It’s important that we don’t give a perception that’s the majority view.

“We know that 70 to 80% of people in Ireland, either definitely or probably, will get this vaccine when they’re offered it.

“So perhaps rather than focusing on vaccine hesitancy per se, what we should be doing is trying to promote even better levels of vaccine confidence.”

Dr Glynn said an effective communications strategy would be one of the key tools needed for a successful implementation strategy.

Includes reporting by Press Association

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