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NPHET member says team 'not there to be popular' as Donnelly criticises 'online vitriol'

Dr Cillian de Gascun said negative commentary can be “a little bit disheartening”.

NPHET members Dr Tony Holohan, Dr Cillian de Gascun and Dr Ronan Glynn.
NPHET members Dr Tony Holohan, Dr Cillian de Gascun and Dr Ronan Glynn.
Image: Leah Farrell

THE HEALTH MINISTER has criticised “public commentary and the online vitriol” against NPHET as the director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory said the team has a “role to play”.

There has been criticism online and from TDs levelled at NPHET after its recommendation to delay the reopening of indoor dining amid the rising Delta coronavirus variant. 

Virologist and NPHET member Dr Cillian de Gascun said the commentary can be a “little bit disheartening”, but that the group is focused on public health and “getting as many people through this as safely as possible”.

Speaking to RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne, Dr de Gascun said that it appears members are “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” in some public communications.

“I think from NPHET’s perspective we have a role to play. We’re not there necessarily to be popular and I think there’s a lot of frustration after the last 15 months because we’ve never really been through something like this,” he said, adding that Ireland wasn’t impacted much by the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s. 

“2009 influenza pandemic was very different because it was flu, it seemed familiar and it wasn’t as severe as we thought it was going to be so we didn’t have to make the demands on people that we’ve had to make. 

But at the same time, our priority is public health and is getting as many people through this as safely as possible.

“I think in some respects, I guess it’s a little bit disheartening but actually for every negative comment or negative observation there are positives as well and I’ve received a lot of that myself which is very nice.”

Earlier this week, Independent TD Micheal Collins said NPHET’s advice on indoor dining was “way off the mark” and claimed that its modelling has been “wrong on almost every occasion”. 

Today in the Dáil, the Health Minister criticised the commentary towards NPHET in recent days. 

Stephen Donnelly said he was “disappointed and uncomfortable” with “some of the public commentary and the online vitriol which has been directed at senior figures of NPHET in recent days”.

“NPHET was tasked with carrying out an assessment of the evidence as to whether or not to reopen and it’s a responsibility they don’t take lightly and which they’ve always conducted with the highest degree of professionalism,” the minister said. 

“As they’ve always done, the Chief Medical Officer and his public health colleagues carefully considered all aspects before making the recommendations which govt obvs then took account of.

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He added that the officials have “worked tirelessly for the last 18 months and I have enormous respect for them”.

“They have an important and difficult job that they have to do.”

Around 700 pharmacies across the country will begin vaccinating people aged 18-34 from next Monday after new advice on administering viral vector vaccines to people under 40. 

Speaking last night at a NPHET press briefing, Professor Philip Nolan said some the modelling for the Delta variant released this week accounted for the possibility that “different vaccines were delivered to different cohorts at different times”.

“What that told us was that, as you might anticipate, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference in July and August but could make a difference in September,” professor Nolan said. 

“The important thing when one is facing exponential growth is to interrupt it early, so the truth is that it doesn’t make a great deal of difference in the short-term and that full range of scenarios would have informed the nature of the discussion at NPHET and the nature of the advice.”

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