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When will everyone be vaccinated? Government unveils roll-out plan

The government announced details of its vaccine allocation strategy this afternoon.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly arrives for Cabinet.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly arrives for Cabinet.
Image: Sam Boal

Updated Dec 8th 2020, 1:04 PM

THE MINISTER FOR Health has announced the allocation strategy for the Covid-19 vaccines, which were signed off by Cabinet this morning.

As expected, it will be care home residents over the age of 65 and staff at these facilities who’ll receive the vaccine first.

Next will be frontline healthcare workers in direct patient contact roles, and then those aged 70 and older with those aged 85 and over receiving the vaccine first among that cohort.

Minister Stephen Donnelly also indicated today that the vaccine will be – as previously indicated – free of charge to everyone in Ireland. 

The publication of this list today comes ahead of the government detailing its wider strategy around the vaccination of the Irish public after it considers a report from the special task force on the Covid-19 vaccination plan due on Friday. 

The vaccine allocation strategy was based on a Department of Health and National Immunisation Advisory Committee paper. 

It sets out the provisional priority list of groups for vaccination once a safe and effective vaccine has been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The government has said the list is governed by a clear rationale and ethical principles.

The EMA is set to meet on 29 December where it is expected that at least one of the most promising vaccine candidates will be authorised. In the UK, rollout has already begun after its authorities approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

According to this provisional list of vaccine allocation groups, care home residents, frontline healthcare workers and those aged 70 and over will be the first to receive the vaccine. 

After that it will be:

  • Other healthcare workers not in direct patient contact,
  • Then it will be people aged 65-69, with those with medical conditions that put them at high risk of severe disease first in this cohort,
  • Key workers are next – the government has said what falls under this category will be refined,
  • Then it’ll be people aged 18-64 with medical conditions that put them at a high risk of severe disease,
  • Next are residents of long-term care facilities aged between 18-64,
  • Then it’s people aged 18-64 living or working in crowded accommodation where self-isolation and social distancing is difficult to maintain,
  • Next are key workers in essential jobs who cannot avoid a high risk of exposure to Covid-19. They include workers in the food supply system, public and commercial transport and other vital services,
  • After this will people are who essential to education, such as primary and second level school staff, special needs assistants, childcare workers, maintenance workers, school bus drivers etc.
  • Then people aged 55-64 years,
  • Next is those in occupations important to the functioning of society, e.g third level institutions, entertainment and goodsproducing industries who work in settings where protective measures can be followed without much difficulty,
  • Then it’ll be people aged 18-54 years who did not have access to the vaccine in prior phases,
  • Then it’ll be children, adolescents up to 18 years and pregnant women.

On the second last cohort, those aged 18-54, the government said that if the evidence demonstrates that the vaccine prevents transmission, then those aged 18-34 should be prioritised “due to their increased level of social contact and role in transmission”. 

Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “Recent news from vaccine developers are a beacon of hope after a very difficult year. Vaccination is a hugely effective intervention for saving lives and promoting good health.”

Reacting to the announcement, Nursing Homes Ireland CEO Tadhg Daly said he welcomed the prioritisation of nursing home residents for the vaccine. 

He said: “There is requirement for a coordinated approach between the nursing home sector, individual nursing homes and the health authorities to ensure successful roll-out of the vaccine.

We remain of a view that a priority should also be a designated visitor for nursing home residents, as the full roll-out will take some time and the vaccine presents opportunity for enhanced contact between residents and family. The focus of engagement between stakeholders must be directed towards achieving the best outcome in delivering the vaccine to those most vulnerable to Covid-19, while also ensuring access to a designated visitor or carer.

Also responding today was the Irish National Teachers Organisation. Its general secretary John Boyle said: “We note that education workers in primary and special schools are a distinct priority group for access to the Covid-19 vaccine. It’s imperative that we see swift rollout of the vaccine to ensure that teachers can be inoculated early in the new year.”

The wider strategy on the rollout of the vaccine is set to be delivered to government on Friday by the High-Level Task Force on Covid-19 Vaccination.

The task force is chaired by former DCU President Brian MacCraith and also includes senior members of NPHET including Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan and HSE CEO Paul Reid.

Last week Reid outlined that doses of the vaccine arriving into Ireland would be coming gradually “over an extended period of time”, so the question of “sequencing and prioritisation” is a key one that needs to be addressed first.

At last night’s NPHET briefing, Dr Holohan said that plans are now at a “very advanced stage”, and have to be “considered by government and approved”.

He said a “proactive meeting” on the plan took place yesterday and confirmed that the plan is expected to be finalised and delivered to government on Friday.

Speaking later to RTÉ’s News At One, Donnelly said that much of the finer details would be outlined upon receipt of this plan. 

He said one thing that remains uncertain with the vaccines is transmissability. While it may protect people from getting seriously from the virus, it is not yet known if it will protect from the virus being spread to others which could potentially make someone who hasn’t received the vaccine very ill. 

He added he wasn’t concerned about the impact Brexit would have on access to vaccines, but added that “we’re watching it very carefully”. 

Under an advanced purchase agreement, Ireland already has agreed deals to access millions of doses of a number of vaccines that are in development.

It has agreed to source 2.3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 880,000 of the Moderna vaccine. Both of these vaccines have shown efficacy of over 90%. 

An agreement is also in place for 3.3 million doses of Astrazeneca/Oxford University vaccine.

The HSE’s National Cold Chain Centre currently boasts a number of freezers to keep vaccines such as the Pfizer one at the low temperatures it needs to be at before being distributed to the public.

The plan also details what falls under the category of medical conditions that put people at a high risk of severe disease.

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They are: chronic heart disease, including hypertension with cardiac involvement; chronic respiratory disease, including asthma requiring continuous or repeated use of systemic steroids or with previous exacerbations requiring hospital admission; Type 1 and 2 diabetes; chronic neurological disease; chronic kidney disease; body mass index >40; immunosuppression due to disease or treatment; chronic liver disease.

The plan can be accessed here

Meanwhile, a 90-year-old Fermanagh woman became the first person to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the UK earlier today.

Margaret Keenan said: “If I can have it at 90, you can have it too.”

A nurse later became the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the same vaccine as people are set to receive the jab at dozens of hospital hubs today. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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