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No plan for vaccine certificates to be used to restrict what people can access or do

Hiqa’s advice to NPHET comes after the government outlined its national vaccination strategy yesterday.

Image: Shutterstock/PhotobyTawat

Updated Dec 16th 2020, 4:29 PM

THERE IS NO plan that vaccine certificates will be used to restrict what people can access or do in Ireland in the coming months. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said yesterday that vaccine certificates which could prove who has received the Covid-19 injection are “under consideration” by the government.

As part of the vaccine roll out implementation plan, the high-level vaccine task force said the vaccine administration process could include the production of a vaccine certificate after someone has received their doses. 

There has been speculation that those who do not get vaccinated could be restricted in what they can do, in terms of attending large events or travel.

However, a spokesperson for the minister today said: 

“It is not envisaged at this stage that the vaccine certificate, which is a medical record used to keep track of which vaccine has been given to a person and on which dates, will be used for any other purpose, such as travel or restricting access.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend countries issuing “immunity passports” for those who have recovered from Covid-19 but said it is looking at prospects of deploying e-vaccination certificates.

The task force report, published yesterday, states that ”the design of this certificate and the scope of how it will be delivered (eg. physically, digitally or both) is currently being progressed with a number of stakeholders, including the EU”.

Head of the task force, Professor Brian MacCraith said that whether a certificate would be physical or digital is under consideration, but added “the language being used is very careful.

“It’s a vaccination certificate of proof of vaccination, nothing else.

“There are also discussions at an EU level of perhaps a single model across the EU 27 for example, but it’s under consideration within the IT infrastructure discussions and as you might imagine it’s not a particularly challenging thing to create in its simplest configuration,” he said.

Hiqa advice

Today, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has said trust, communication, and knowledge will be core tenets to help influence and improve the uptake of Covid-19 vaccinations in Ireland.

In advice issued to NPHET after reviewing international evidence, Hiqa said that the campaign to vaccinate Irish people should be largely based on consensus rather than penalties and enforcement. 

Hiqa also stressed in its advice that potential barriers to equitable access to vaccines should be minimised and said that, given the unique situation of Covid-19, evidence from other vaccines such as seasonal flu is likely to have limited applicability to the situation we’re in now in terms of uptake, preference and behaviours.

Yesterday, the government announced details of its National Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy.

It will see at-risk groups prioritised for the early rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, before it ramps up to groups within the wider population. 

Dedicated mass vaccination hubs will be set up, while details around a person’s path from appointment to innoculation were also explained.

In considering its advice, Hiqa noted that concerns may be raised about how mRNA vaccines (such as those made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) work as well as the rigour of the approval process from the European Medicines Agency (EMA). 

Presenting information clearly and accurately on these topics was said to be an important factor in building trust with the public on the safety and efficacy of these vaccines. 

During a meeting of its Covid-19 expert advisory group, Hiqa said: “It was noted that the majority of individuals do not have an inherent bias for or against a vaccine, but need to be assured and informed in terms of the evidence for potential benefit or harm relevant to them or their family.

There was agreement among [group] members that any policy aiming to maximise uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine needs to focus on trust, communication and knowledge. There is a need for communication to reassure the public of the process of vaccination approval by the EMA. While timelines have been shortened, processes have been carried out in parallel rather than sequentially and are robust. All vaccines, including the new Covid-19 vaccines, undergo the same rigorous evaluation process by regulatory authorities.

Hiqa’s advice also pinpointed the importance of healthcare workers in this process.

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It said that in advance of any vaccination programme, healthcare workers should be provided with the necessary information for them to make informed decisions for themselves and also act as a trusted source of information for others.

Key figures within local communities, such as GPs, pharmacists, and religious and sports leaders were also pinpointed as important to provide with evidence-based information to help with engagement with the community.

“Evidence in relation to the effectiveness and safety of Covid-19 vaccines obtained through ongoing surveillance should be made available in a proactive, open and accountable manner to maintain public trust,” Hiqa added.

With additional reporting by Christina Finn

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Sean Murray

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