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Leaders' Questions

AstraZeneca approval will allow vaccinations to ramp up to 100,000 per week in February, says Varadkar

This week, around 50,000 vaccinations are expected to be completed.

GOVERNMENT EXPECTS THE AstraZeneca vaccine to be approved by the European Medicines Agency on 29 January, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

This development would be “significant” in terms of Ireland’s vaccination numbers, said Varadkar, stating that it would pave the way for 100,000 weekly vaccinations here in February.

This week, around 50,000 vaccinations are expected to be completed. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been described as a game-changer, has been shown to prevent severe disease and stop people contracting Covid-19.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said the Government plans to have 700,000 people vaccinated by the end of March.

This would include the priority groups such as those in long-term residential care, both staff and residents, frontline healthcare workers, and those aged over 70. 

In total, the government is aiming for almost four million people to be vaccinated by the end of September, Donnelly said.

Varadkar also told the Dáil that he will inquire as to whether AstraZeneca could be distributed within Ireland before approval to speed up the roll out. 


During Leaders’ Questions, the Tánaiste also warned the Dáil that it remains a very precarious time for the Irish health system. 

“What is somewhat encouraging is the number of admissions to hospital yesterday was 149, but the number of discharges was 128, so the net increase, at least in the last day, was much smaller than in previous days,” says Varadkar.

“There is a glimmer of hope,” he said, stating that cases have been falling now for a number of days now.

“We may see the number of people being hospitalised, the total number of people hospitalised starting to fall in about a week’s time,” said Varadkar, with ICU admissions falling in about two weeks time.

“But it will be a very difficult and very precarious and very dangerous situation for the next two weeks at the very least in our hospitals,” he said. 

Varadkar said there are 29 ICU adult beds free today, as well as pediatric beds.

Talks are ongoing with the private hospitals to secure their capacity if needed, he said, stating it would allow the use of up to 60% of their capacity.

On the issue of health care workers in the community not being vaccinated, Varadkar said many GPs and dentists had been in touch with him to raise their concerns

It is essential that they should be included within that second group of health workers, as should their staff, said the Tánaiste, who pointed out that they deal with the public and are at risk too.

“That’s something I’ll be taking up with the vaccine task force,” he said.

Meanwhile, Varadkar reassured people that it is okay to ask questions about the vaccine, stating that it is understandable that some people might be hesitant.

Limerick TD Richard O’Donoghue, who said before Christmas he would need to consult his GP before taking a vaccine, now says he will do so – but told the Dáil there should not be a stigma around asking questions.

“It is okay to ask questions. And yes, it is okay to have doubts, to seek reassurance and to seek information. I think that’s entirely reasonable. During my time practicing as a doctor, as a GP, I worked in vaccine clinics, and people would have questions and they would have concerns. And it was my job to answer their questions, give them accurate information, and assuage their concerns,” said Varadkar.

He said the government’s philosophy is to engage and explain, “not to browbeat people into submission, or to patronise them”.

“It’s important that we should also talk about the vaccine. But that is not to say for a second that I think we should tolerate the kind of conspiracies that we see online or misinformation, and conspiracy theories, lies, and misinformation particularly, spread online which is wrong and should stop.

“But that should not be conflated with individuals, citizens, patients, who have concerns, who have questions, who want to know about side effects, who want to know about indemnity, who want to know about safety, and it’s entirely right that they should ask those questions,” said Varadkar.

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