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HSE says it's 'realistic' to expect Ireland will begin vaccination programme in early days of January

CEO Paul Reid said it will still be “some time” before a vaccine is our main line of defence against the virus.

Image: PA

HSE CEO PAUL Reid has said it is ‘realistic’ that Ireland could start its vaccination programme early in January. 

He said the timeline for vaccination rollout has become a lot clearer this week with announcements from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that two vaccine developers – Pfizer/BioNTech ad Moderna – had submitted applications for conditional marketing authorisation (CMA).

An extraordinary emergency meeting will take place in relation to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by 29 December at the latest and a similar meeting in relation to the Moderna vaccination will take place on 12 January.

“Based on these dates, and all going well according to that plan, it is realistic to expect that Ireland will commence its vaccination programme in the early days of January 2021 and that certainly is the plan that we’re working towards,” Reid said.

He said the news had given the HSE and its frontline workers “a great level of hope” about 2021.

The Covid-19 vaccine taskforce, of which Reid is a member, met again this week to continue its work on a strategy for the vaccine roll-out. He said the taskforce is “on track” to deliver its strategy to government by 11 December.

The strategy covers the entire process, including supply chain and logistics, the workforce, the enabling technology to record and trace which vaccines were given and to who, the surveillance of the effectiveness and the communications management of the programme.

The European Commission has agreed advance purchase arrangements with six vaccine developers and Ireland will have the capacity to acquire almost 16 million vaccine doses.

“Although there’ll be no shortage of doses of the vaccines, they will arrive over an extended period of time, thereby requiring a sequencing or prioritisation process, which is currently being finalised through the taskforce,” Reid explained.

“As you know, different vaccines have different temperature storage requirements, the Pfizer vaccine in particular has to be stored at minus 75 degrees, followed by local transport arrangements of between two and eight degrees.

“The key requirement in our preparation for the vaccination program has been the procurement, we just took delivery this week of nine ultra low temperature freezers on 1 December.”

He said each of those nine freezers can store about 200,000 doses of vaccine and there is already a cold storage facility at Citywest that was procured a number of years ago.

Reid said he wanted to stress that the vaccine “will not be our first line of defence for now or for some time to come”.

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“It is a great boost and a great part of our defence but it will take some time before it is the main line of defence. The high risk and concern for us from a HSE perspective is that the public do perceive it that way and we lose the great basic principles of what’s done so well over a whole year 2020.

“So it is key that we sustain the basic those basic principles, doing the simple things that work well and all of the individual public health measures.”

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