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TDs call for vaccine side deals to be struck as health minister says 'there is no vaccine mountain'

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar anticipates the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be approved by the European Medicines Agency tomorrow.

HEALTH STEPHEN DONNELLY was challenged at this evening’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting over delays in the vaccine roll out and for stating that there are not private supply lines that can be pursued.

Donnelly said there have been many people getting in touch with Department of Health saying they can help with vaccine supply, but he told party members that all leads have resulted in dead ends.

There are “no secret warehouses” and “no vaccine mountain”, he said. 

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness disagreed with the health minister this evening, stating that countries have made arrangements to purchase extra vaccines.

Earlier in the week, McGuinness said he gave information to the minister that an American supplier is willing to arrange a supply for Ireland.

McGuinness said he has been in contact with sources on the US Capitol Hill about supplementary sources, with MEP Billy Kelleher stating that some EU countries have vaccines in storage. 

Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry objected to the minister this evening, stating that as far back as January he was calling on the government to seek out other avenues for vaccine supply rather than rely on the EU. 

He said he was laughed at, but now a number of other EU countries are doing just that, calling the EU strategy “an abject failure”.

Donnelly responded: “You profoundly disagree with me and I profoundly disagree with you.”

Mayo TD Dara Calleary asked Donnelly how Ireland can trust AstraZeneca that they will deliver their Q2 doses when they have let us down to date.

Donnelly said there is nothing to suggest they are going to improve, but added the company will part of a portfolio of vaccines this time around.

EU Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne warned members about a “misinformation campaign” in relation to Russian doses, stating that there is not sufficient capacity within Russia to meet all of its vaccine commitments.

Earlier, the Taoiseach had told the party to be careful what they read, citing reports of Russia allegedly manufacturing the Sputnik vaccine in Italy, but he said if you drill down into the information, that facility won’t be ready for quite some time.

The Irish government has offered to assist Pfizer on manufacturing capability here, the Taoiseach said, but the company insists it has enough capability in its other plants abroad to meet its contract obligations.

The Taoiseach said he believes the best chance of increased supplies is increased manufacturing. 

Micheál Martin said: “There are lots of easy narratives on vaccines and there is no magic tree of vaccines out there.”

He said he has spoken to Commissioner Breton who has been tasked by the EU Commission to address vaccination supply and he is also engaging with pharma companies.

“The whole of the EU is working together to increase vaccine capacity and supply in the EU and if there is EMA approval from other vaccines from outside the EU we will use them,” he said.

He added: “We have and we will seek every avenue to get more vaccines.”

If the Russian or Chinese vaccine is approved by the EMA, “we will use it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting that he anticipates the single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be approved by the European Medicines Agency tomorrow and will be arriving in the country next month.

He acknowledged the slippage in the supply is “frustrating”.

Varadkar said all countries would need their own supply of vaccines for several months yet. He pointed out that the UK have vaccinated 30% on the first doses, still had 70% to go and then a full second round of doses. He said the supply will continue to get better.

The Taoiseach said this evening that the focus must remain on reducing the number of Covid-19 cases.

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Martin did not want to get into speculation about what might be eased when, but said areas previously indicated such as 5km and construction will be reviewed.

The Taoiseach expressed hope to get construction going in April, and maybe the 5km and some outdoor activities. 

“We were clear in the last announcement that we would go through March with existing restrictions and as part of the review prior to April 5th we will examine outdoor gatherings, sporting activity and construction.

“We will not be engaging in speculation beyond that and we need to keep the focus to get the numbers down,” he said.

“The vaccination impact on nursing homes has brought the incidence to less than 1%. There is a real gain with every vaccination,” said Martin.

Martin said the government must continue being “cautious and careful” because of the risk of new variants.” As a country we are doing well in an EU context but other countries in the EU are now going in the wrong direction,” he said.

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Tourism Minister Catherine Martin had a productive meeting with the hospitality sector today, said Martin, who indicated that providing adequate supports for hospitality will be a priority, as they “have suffered most”.  

He said more will have to be done from them, indicating that supports will remain in place for the sector until at least the end of June or into the remainder of the summer.

Progress is being made on reducing the level of the virus, he said, but added that the numbers in hospital are still above 300, which is above the peak of hospitalisations last November, the peak of the second wave. 

“We can’t let the guard down too early. We have done well,” the Taoiseach said.

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