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Opposition parties seek clarity on overhaul of vaccine priority schedule

Under a new plan, priority for vaccinations will no longer be assigned based on a person’s occupation.

Image: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

OPPOSITION PARTIES ARE asking the government for clarity on a broad change to the structure of the vaccine priority schedule that was announced this evening.

Under a new plan, priority for vaccinations will no longer be assigned based on a person’s occupation.

Instead, once vulnerable groups are inoculated, the schedule is to move immediately to a priority determined by age categories.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that the original programme for the rollout could have been delayed due to difficulties in identifying people employed in specific jobs.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she believes that the “change the government has made on this is one possibly of necessity because their system is so ineffective”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News, McDonald said: “I think the change by government is more an admission that their system is ineffective and it’s simply easier to categorise people by age.”

“I have very great sympathy with gardaí, teachers, SNAs, and family carers, who haven’t been given a look it at all yet on the order of priority, and I think it underscores that the government have a lot to do to get the systems, the oversight, the surveillance and the delivery of this vaccination programme right,” she said.

Under the preexisting schedule, teachers at primary and secondary level, alongside school staff, special needs assistants, childcare workers, maintenance workers and school bus drivers would have been vaccinated under cohort 11, which covered people essential to education and who face disease exposure.

Looking at gardaí, Sinn Féin spokesperson for justice Martin Kenny said that it should reinstate vaccinations for members of An Garda Síochána as a priority.

Kenny said that he was “horrified to hear that the government has thrown away the plans for the vaccine rollout, and removed any prioritisation for our gardaí”.

“It makes zero sense and beggars belief that someone without an underlying condition and able to work from home could get the vaccine in advance of Gardaí working on the frontline,” he said.

The government signed off on the overhaul alongside a plan for the restrictions that are to be in place over the coming months. 

The 5km limit on travel is to lift from 12 April. Instead, people will be allowed to travel within their own county and up to 20km from their home, even if that involves crossing a county border.

Labour is still pushing for the appointment of a Minister for Vaccines to oversee the vaccine rollout.

Party leader Alan Kelly said that there are a “lot of frontline essential workers in education, childcare, policing and retail who will be concerned that they no longer have any priority under the vaccination programme”.

“The government is gambling on volume over efficiency when it comes to the vaccine roll out which is why they’ve decided to change strategy, Kelly said.

“This gamble better work out for them, otherwise workers in Covid facing roles will be left high and dry,” he said.

“The government also still need to provide answers on what happened at the Beacon. If we had a Vaccination Minister we might have some proper oversight and accountability. In the coming weeks people’s faith in our Covid response can be restored with a more competent rollout of the vaccine.”

In a statement, the Social Democrats said that the “changes proposed to the vaccine priority list require explanation in terms of how they will operate”.

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“The government needs to spell out if this will entail a self-registration system,” the party’s co-leader Róisín Shorthall said.

“If so, is the IT system capable of this and how do they plan to approach hard-to-reach groups?”

As of Saturday, 802,502 doses of vaccines against Covid-19 have been administered in Ireland, including 577,641 first doses and 224,861 second doses.

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