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High-level taskforce created to oversee Covid-19 vaccine roll out in Ireland

People who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 will be the immediate priority of government.

Image: Shutterstock/creativeneko

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has told the Dáil that a high-level taskforce has been established to oversee the roll out of Covid-19 vaccines in Ireland once they are approved by the statutory authorities.

Martin said that targeting people who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 will be the immediate priority of government.

The high-level vaccine task force will be tasked with co-ordinating preparations and ensuring the nationwide roll out of a Covid-19 vaccine when one is safe and ready to be distributed, said Martin.

In August, the government set up a vaccine strategy committee under the chairmanship of the Department of Health, while the HSE set up its own group.

However, Cabinet decided yesterday that a “whole-of-government group”, which will take in expertise from outside government in regard to organising the logistical operations, is now needed.

Who is on the taskforce?

The group will be chaired by Professor Brian MacCraith from DCU. The Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan will also be on vaccine task force, as will Paul Reid, CEO of the HSE.

Senior civil servant and chair of the senior officials group on Covid-19, Liz Canavan, Barry Lowry, Government chief information officer; and Paul Quinn, Government chief procurement officer, will also sit on the taskforce.

In addition, there will be a nominee yet to be confirmed from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, who will be a logistics cold chain expert and a project management expert.

Earlier this week, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their Covid-19 vaccine was 90% effective in its large-scale Phase 3 trial.

It has been hailed as a ‘watershed moment’ and welcomed by scientists, health officials and world leaders.

The vaccine requires two doses. This means twice the number of visits to a vaccination centre – or wherever it is administered. At best this would result in resource and administrative challenges in first world countries, but it presents a much more serious barrier for less developed countries.

Another serious roadblock is the temperature at which this vaccine needs to be stored: at -80 degrees.

This issue was raised by Labour leader Alan Kelly today in the Dáil.

The Taoiseach said Kelly was correct in identifying the logistical issues around the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in terms of the requirement for storage. He said the high-level vaccine task force will be tasked with co-ordinating preparations in this area.

Vaccines under consideration 

However, Martin said it is not the only vaccine in the works.

He explained that Ireland is part of a pre-purchase agreement with the European Commission.

Allocation of access to vaccine doses between Member States will be decided according to a set population distribution.

There are currently no Covid-19 vaccines authorised for use in Europe, but there is a portfolio of seven potential vaccines, explained the Taoiseach.

Advance Purchase Agreements have issued for three of these vaccines, and Ireland has opted-in to each. These include:

  • AstraZeneca, which is partnering with Oxford University
  • Janssen (owned by Johnson & Johnson)
  • Sanofi Pasteur – this will be formalised when the current phase of clinical trials of the vaccine have been completed (expected late December/early January).

The Taoiseach said the emerging news is that the Commission is on the cusp of signing, if it has not already signed, a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech.

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“The President of the Commission has been leading that process and I have been in contact with her on it. It has been discussed at European Council meetings. Ultimately, it is the Commission’s target to have an agreement with seven consortia.

“There is enough funding across the European system for arrangements with six consortia and it will probably go to a seventh. We will need the full range of options throughout 2021 because the next issue will be manufacture.

“All of those agreements include specific dosage allocations that mean we would get approximately 1% of whatever the European procurement is… That will be very significant for us in terms of targeting the vulnerable and those who would be a priority in terms of the receipt of a vaccine,” said Martin.

Last month, a survey showed that over half of people in Ireland would take a Covid-19 vaccine if there was one.

The survey, conducted by  Ipsos MRBI for the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) found 55% would take the vaccine, while 33% said they were unsure. 12% of respondents said they would not take a vaccine. 

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