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Ireland yet to receive Covid vaccine offer from UK, says Coveney but government interested in discussing it

The United Kingdom reportedly plans to supply Ireland with 3.7 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Image: PA Images

Updated Mar 28th 2021, 1:39 PM

FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER Simon Coveney has said Ireland would “very much” be interested in excess vaccines from the UK – but added that he doesn’t think that’s going to happen in the short term.

Government sources confirmed to The Journal last night that the UK government has not been in contact with its Irish counterparts over reported plans to supply the Republic of Ireland with surplus Covid-19 vaccines.

“There isn’t an offer that I am aware of,” Coveney said this afternoon.

“We would be very interested in talking to the UK government about that,” he added. 

While the suggestion was described as ‘speculation’, one source added that any such offer would likely be accepted.

The Sunday Times reports this morning that the United Kingdom plans to supply Ireland with 3.7 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, enough to fully vaccinate 1.85 million people.

This is contingent on a supply adequate to administer a second dose to the adult population in the United Kingdom, and will only be possible ‘after Easter’.

A downturn in the United Kingdom’s own supply is expected in April.

‘Speculation’

Senior government sources told The Journal last night that the plans were ‘speculation’, noting that the UK is still vaccinating its own population, and even if spares were available it would be some time before they were shared with Ireland.

One source said Ireland would be happy to accept such an offer if it were made, but added that the supply of vaccines from the European Union would improve significantly over the next four to six weeks, leaving Ireland with its own adequate number of vaccines.

Coveney said today that he was wary of such reports, stating “there is politics being played here too”.

He said right now, 55% of UK adults have received their first dose of the vaccine, while less than 6% have received their second. He said tens of millions aare still waiting on their first jab, he pointed out.

While he said there may well be excess vaccines “at some point in the future”… realistically I don’t think we are looking at that for some time to come”.

The paper reports that the intention of sharing supply is primarily to shore up plans to ease restrictions in Northern Ireland, where the rollout has progressed further than in the Republic, and to avoid a third wave of infections there.

It would also represent the first export of vaccines out of the United Kingdom to the European Union.

As Ireland’s rollout struggles to build steam due to poor and intermittent supply, the United Kingdom’s efforts are continuing at a much greater pace, leading to speculation that excess supply could be passed on.

Ireland is already due to receive increasing numbers of vaccines over the coming weeks through existing EU purchase agreements.

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RTÉ News reports this morning that Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster spoke to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson about plans to share vaccine supply with Ireland.

Foster told the broadcaster that she believes excess doses “should, and hopefully will” be shared, but only once the United Kingdom’s own rollout is complete.

She said she raised the matter with Johnson already, adding that she will raised it again when she speaks to him. Foster said it is definitely a “runner” that spare vaccines will be shared with Ireland.

Coveney said he listened to Foster today, stating that it was “welcome language”.

“Of course if there is excess supply we would be really interested in talking to the UK about that,” he added.

Ireland has so far administered the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to 11.1% of its population, compared to 38% in Northern Ireland and roughly 45% in the United Kingdom overall.

The United Kingdom has sped ahead in this regard by delaying the administration of second dose of some vaccines.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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Nicky Ryan

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